On the curious pre-9/11 quaintness of current criticism of India’s 1998 nuclear tests

I said towards the end of my June 4-5 2006 article in The Statesman “Pakistan’s Allies”

“…America and its allies would not be safe for long since the civil war they had left behind in Afghanistan while trying to defeat the USSR now became a brew from which arose a new threat of violent Islamism. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, whom Pakistan’s military and the USA had promoted, now encouraged unprecedented attacks on the American mainland on September 11 2001 ~ causing physical and psychological damage which no Soviet, Chinese or Cuban missiles ever had been allowed to do….”

Earlier, in The Statesman of October 26 2005,  I had outlined a series of recent US espionage failures

“There have been three or four enormous failures of American espionage (i.e. intelligence and counter-intelligence) in the last 20 years. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet communism were salubrious events but they had not been foreseen by the United States which was caught unawares by the speed and nature of the developments that took place. Other failures have been catastrophic.

First, there was the failure to prevent the attack that took place on the American mainland on September 11 2001. It killed several thousand civilians and caused vast, perhaps irreparable, psychological and physical destruction to the United States. The attack was without precedent. The December 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, though a surprise, was carried out by one military against another military and did not affect very many civilians (except that thousands of American civilians of Japanese ancestry came to be persecuted and placed in concentration camps for years by the US Government). And the last time the American mainland had been attacked before 2001 was in 1814 when British troops marched south from Canada and burnt down the Capitol and the US President’s house in Washington.

Secondly, there has been a failure to discover any reasonable justification for the American-led attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation. Without any doubt, America has lost, at the very least, an incalculable amount of international goodwill as a result of this, let aside suffering two thousand young soldiers killed, fifteen thousand wounded, and an unending cost in terms of prestige and resources in return for the thinnest of tangible gains. India at great cost liberated East Pakistan from the brutal military tyranny of Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan in December 1971 but the average Bangladeshi today could hardly care less. Regardless of what form of government emerges in Iraq now, there is no doubt the mass of the Iraqi people will cheer the departure of the bulk of foreign troops and tanks from their country (even if a permanent set of a dozen hermetically sealed American bases remain there for ever, as appears to have been planned).

When things go wrong in any democracy, it is natural and healthy to set up a committee to investigate, and America has done that several times now. For such committees to have any use at all they must be as candid as possible and perhaps the most candid of the American committees has been the US Government’s 9/11 Commission. But it too has appeared no closer to finding out who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks or who financed it and who, precisely, executed it. Osama Bin Laden may have been the ideological head of a movement allied to the perpetrators, and Bin Laden undoubtedly expressed his glee afterwards, but it beggars the imagination that Bin Laden could have been executive president in charge of this operation while crawling around Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If not him, then whom? Mossad the Israeli spy agency was supposed to have pointed to a super-secret invisible Lebanese terrorist but nobody really knows. The biggest modern mass murder remains unsolved.

As for solutions, the American 9/11 Commission went into the same politically correct formulae that came to be followed in 2005 by British PM Tony Blair’s New Labour Cabinet, namely, that “moderate” peace-loving Muslims must be encouraged and bribed not to turn to terrorism (indeed to expose those among them who do), while “extremist” Muslims must be stamped out with brute force. This rests on a mistaken premise that an economic carrot-and-stick policy can work in creating a set of external incentives and disincentives for Muslims, when in fact believing Muslims, like many other religious believers, are people who feel the power of their religion deep within themselves and so are unlikely to be significantly affected by external incentives or disincentives offered by non-believers.  Another committee has been the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence which reported in July 2004, and from whose findings have stemmed as an offshoot the current matter about whether high government officials broke the law that is being investigated by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Bertrand Russell said in his obituary of Ludwig Wittgenstein that he had once gone about looking under all the tables and chairs to prove to Wittgenstein that there was not a hippopotamus present in the room. In the present case, however, there is in fact a very large hippopotamus present in the room yet the entire American foreign policy establishment has seemed to refuse to wish to see it. Saddam Hussain and OBL are undoubtedly certifiable members of the international gallery of rogues – but the central fact remains they were rogues who were in alliance with America’s defined strategic interests in the 1980s. Saddam Hussain’s Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and gassed the Kurds in 1986; an Iraqi Mirage on May 17 1987 fired two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark killing 37 American sailors and injuring 21. The Americans did nothing. The reason was that Saddam was still in favour at the time and had not yet become a demon in the political mythology of the American state, and it was expedient for nothing to be done. Indeed Saddam’s Iraq was explicitly removed in 1982 from the US Government’s list of states sponsoring terrorism because, according to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, it had “moved closer to the policies of its moderate Arab neighbours”.

The very large hippopotamus that is present in the room at the moment is April Glaspie, the highly regarded professional career diplomat and American Ambassador to Iraq at the time of the 1990 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein as President had a famous meeting with her on July 25 1990, eight days before he invaded Kuwait. The place was the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and the Iraqis videotaped the meeting:

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – “I have direct instructions from President (George Herbert Walker) Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship – not confrontation – regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?

Saddam Hussein – As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.

U. S. Ambassador Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptable?

Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam’ s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)

Saddam had seen himself fighting Islamic Iran on behalf of the Kuwaitis, Saudis and other Arabs, and Islamic Iran was of course the sworn adversary of the USA at least since Khomeini had deposed America’s ally, the Shah. Therefore Saddam could not be all bad in the eyes of the State Department. On August 2 1990, the Iraqi troops seen by American satellites amassed on the border, invaded and occupied Kuwait. On September 2 1990, the Iraqis released the videotape and transcript of the July 29 Saddam-Glaspie meeting and Glaspie was confronted by British journalists as she left the Embassy:

Journalist 1 – Are the transcripts (holding them up) correct, Madam Ambassador? (No answer from Glaspie)

Journalist 2 – You knew Saddam was going to invade (Kuwait ) but you didn’t warn him not to. You didn’t tell him America would defend Kuwait. You told him the opposite – that America was not associated with Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You encouraged this aggression – his invasion. What were you thinking?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You thought he was just going to take some of it? But, how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed , he would give up his Iran(Shatt al Arab waterway) goal for the whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be. You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as a historic part of their country!

Journalist 1 – America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay – that the U.S. would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumeilah oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands (including Bubiyan) – the territories claimed by Iraq?

Glaspie said nothing, the car door closed behind her, the car drove off. Nothing has been apparently heard from Glaspie ever since, and we may have to wait for her memoirs in 25 years when they are declassified to come to know what happened. It is astonishing, however, that the 521 page report of the US Senate’s Select Committee on espionage about Iraq before the 2003 war finds no cause whatsoever to mention Glaspie at all (at least in its public censored version). It is almost as if Glaspie has never existed and her conversation with Saddam never happened. Glaspie has disappeared down an Orwellian memory-hole. Yet her conversation with Saddam was the last official, recorded conversation between the Americans and Saddam while they were still on friendly terms.

There may be many causes explaining how such serious failures have come to occur in a country where billions of dollars have been annually spent on espionage. Among them must be that while America’s great strengths have included creation of the finest advanced scientific and technological base on earth, America’s great intellectual weaknesses in recent decades have included an impatience with historical and philosophical reflection of all sorts, and that includes reflection about her own as well as other cultures. This is exemplified too in the third palpable failure of intelligence of the last 20 years, which has been to have not foreseen or prevented atomic weapons from being developed by America and Britain’s Islamist ally and client-state, Pakistan, and thence to have failed to prevent the proliferation of such weapons in general. The consequences of that may yet turn out to be the most grave.”

Now as it happens, a couple of days ago, eleven years after the Government of India’s May 1998 underground nuclear tests at Pokhran, an Indian scientist who had something to do with them has engaged in a general discussion about the tests’ efficacy. Indian newspapers duly reported this as part of an ongoing domestic discussion about nuclear policy.

Oddly enough, there has been an instantaneous reaction from American critics of India’s nuclear activities – beginning with Dr Jeffrey Lewis:

“Yes, Virginia, India’s H-bomb fizzled.  K Santhanam (who was director of test site preparations for India’s 1998 nuclear tests… has admitted what everyone else has known for a long time — that India’s 1998 test of a thermonuclear device was unsuccessful.…”

Followed by Mark Hibbs:

“Is this cool or what? I remember what happened when I wrote that article in the fall of 1998 saying in the headline that the US had concluded that the Indian “H-Bomb failed.” Almost overnight after the article was published I got a huge bundle of papers from BARC and DAE sent to me by diplomatic pouch from Mumbai informing me with all kinds of numbers that I was wrong.  I gave the papers to laboratory geoscientists at several European countries and the US. One main CTBTO monitoring scientist told me explicitly: “Nope. The stuff in these papers is shitty science. They haven’t shown that you are wrong.” That having been said, please note however that, as PK Iyengar had made the case to me back a decade ago, once again this “news” is surfacing in India because their bomb makers want to keep testing. Some things in India are changing fast. Other things aren’t.”

Followed by Charles Mead:

“I got into a huge pissing match with the Indians on this issue as I was the principal author of Barker et. al. 1998 which had the yield estimates far below the Indian press releases. A number of Indian scientists tried to submit a comment to Science rebutting our analysis. We asked them to provide the in-country seismic data on which they based their analysis, but they refused. Luckily, in the end, their comment was rejected and never published.  On a related note, I saw the other day that wikipedia has a glowing description of the Indian 1998 tests, citing the inflated yields and saying the tests were a huge technical accomplishment. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pokhran-II In the next day or so, I plan to submit a corrected analysis.”

Mark Hibbs:

“Charles, I recall one of your co-authors back then explained to me in nitty-gritty detail your frustration on this with these guys. Please do correct the record for posterity.”

Charles Meade:

“Their arguments at the time were quite remarkable. They said that our seismic data didn’t reflect the true yield because of a complex interference pattern caused by the simultaneous tests. Under these circumstances, they said that one could only obtain the correct yield from near field data. We said, “fine, show it to us”. They refused and that was the end of their paper.”

Yale Simkin:

“The Indian argument: ‘For us to have a nuclear deterrent we must weaponise. For this, we must have fusion weapons, because these are smaller, lighter, and more efficient than fission weapons.’ is a lot of hooey.  They claim to be building a deterrent force, not a war-fighting arsenal with a counter-force capability.  For the size and mass of their likely early-generation fusion designs, they can instead use basic fission bombs yielding in the multi-dekakiloton range – multiples of the hell weapons that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That should be sufficient to deter any rational adversary. And if they aren’t rational, then you have no deterrent.”

Hmmm.  The choice of terminology even within such a brief discussion might reveal a little of the mind-set: “shitty science”, “pissing match”, “a lot of hooey”…

Rather uncool, really.

Specifically:

“A number of Indian scientists tried to submit a comment to Science rebutting our analysis. We asked them to provide the in-country seismic data on which they based their analysis, but they refused. Luckily, in the end, their comment was rejected and never published…. Their arguments at the time were quite remarkable. They said that our seismic data didn’t reflect the true yield because of a complex interference pattern caused by the simultaneous tests. Under these circumstances, they said that one could only obtain the correct yield from near field data. We said, “fine, show it to us”. They refused and that was the end of their paper.

Hmmm — once more.  The words that I have placed in bold above might be prima facie evidence of incorrect and hence unfair editorial procedures having been followed at Science (distinguished as its general reputation may be as a journal).  Why were these here-unnamed “Indian scientists” not allowed to speak for themselves, rather than have their now-unknown statements be bowdlerised out of their critics’ memories a decade later (when these critics themselves had been the subject of the rebuttal)?  Perhaps the rebuttal should not have been refused publication even if it came with an editorial caveat that all the data deemed necessary had not been provided (which may have been the case, for example, due to a Government gag-order).  Readers today would have been able to judge for themselves.

I am happy to claim zero expertise in the field known rather sweetly as “Crater Morphology”; but post 9/11, post-Iraq war, it does seem to me a rather quaint form of prejudice to be using such words as those quoted above  in discussing the precise tonnage of the Indian explosions and how, really, India’s scientists were not up to it.  Perhaps,  when matters of public policy or international diplomacy become involved, science  everywhere is too important to be left to the scientists.

Are all the available data out there in the public domain on which to judge whether the Indian explosions in 1998 were or were not what was precisely claimed at the time?  Apparently not.

Does it matter to anything today?  Hardly.  Not even to the credibility of the Government of India (something on which I have had a lot to say over decades).

Do Governments lie?  Yes Virginia, they do.

Governments the world over, whether Indian, American, Russian, Chinese, British, French, Israeli, Arab, Pakistani or whatever, let aside inter-Governmental bodies constituted by these Governments, are prone to exaggeration, propaganda, self-delusion, self-deception as well as deliberate mendacity, perhaps routinely on a daily basis.

(For myself as an individual, I have had to battle the demonstrated and deliberate mendacity of the government of one of the fifty States in the US federal courts for two decades now, as told of elsewhere…)

An Age of Government Mendacity has seemed to descend upon the world — which makes the smugness expressed so quickly today by the critics of India’s 1998 explosions seem, as I have said, quaint.

Is the current Indian debate indicating something about keeping open the possibility of more tests and isn’t this related to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal?   It may well be, I do not know.  My position for what it is worth has been clear and described in several articles in The Statesman in recent years e.g.

1) Atoms for Peace (or War)  (March 5 2006)

“Atoms for Peace” was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the UN (presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister) from which arose the IAEA. Eisenhower was the warrior par excellence, having led the Allies to victory over Hitler a few years earlier.

Yet he was the first to see “no sane member of the human race” can discover victory in the “desolation, degradation and destruction” of nuclear war. “Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the ‘great destroyers’, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build.” Speaking of the atomic capacity of America’s communist adversary at the time, he said: “We never have, and never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what rightly belongs to it. We will never say that the peoples of the USSR are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship.” Rather, “if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind…. if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material… this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage”. Eisenhower’s IAEA would receive contributions from national “stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials”, and also impound, store and protect these and devise “methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind.…to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world… to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.” When Eisenhower visited India he was greeted as the “Prince of Peace” and a vast multitude threw rose petals as he drove by in an open limousine.

Now, half a century later, Dr Manmohan Singh read a speech in Parliament on February 27 relating to our nuclear discussions with America. But it seems unclear even his speech-writers or technical advisers knew how far it was rhetoric and how far grounded in factual realities. There is also tremendous naivete among India’s media anchors and political leaders as to what exactly has been agreed by the Americans on March 2.

Churchill once asked what might have happened if Lloyd George and Clemenceau told Woodrow Wilson: “Is it not true that nothing but your fixed and expiring tenure of office prevents you from being thrown out of power?” The same holds for George W. Bush today. Wilson made many promises to the world that came to be hit for a six by US legislators. In December 2005, Edward Markey (Democrat) and Fred Upton (Republican) promised to scuttle Bush’s agreements with India, and once the pleasant memories of his India visit fade, Bush may quite easily forget most things about us. All the Americans have actually agreed to do is to keep talking.

It needs to be understood that submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the only ultimate military deterrent. Land and air forces are all vulnerable to a massive first-strike. Only submarines lurking silently for long periods in waters near their target, to launch nuclear warheads upon learning their homeland had been hit by the enemy, act as a deterrent preventing that same enemy from making his attack at all. Indeed, the problem becomes how a submarine commander will receive such information and his instructions during such a war. (For India to acquire an ICBM capability beyond the MRBM Agni rockets is to possess an expensive backward technology — as retrograde as the idea India should spend scarce resources sending manned moon missions half a century after it has already been done. The secret is to do something new and beneficial for mankind, not repeat what others did long ago merely to show we can now do it too.) A nuclear-armed submarine needs to be submerged for long periods and also voyage long distances at sea, and hence needs to be nuclear-powered with a miniature version of a civilian nuclear reactor aboard in which, e.g. rods of enriched uranium are bombarded to release enough energy to run hydroelectric turbines to generate power. Patently, no complete separation of the use of atomic power for peace and war may be practically possible. If India creates e.g. its own thorium reactors for civilian power (and we have vast thorium reserves, the nuclear fuel of the future), and then miniaturised these somehow to manufacture reactors for submarines, the use would be both civilian and military. In 1988 the old USSR leased India a nuclear-powered submarine for “training” purposes, and the Americans did not like it at all. In January 2002, Russia’s Naval Chief announced India was paying to build and then lease from 2004 until 2009 two nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarines, and Jaswant Singh reportedly said we were paying $1 thousand crore ($10 bn) for such a defence package. Whether the transaction has happened is not known. Once we have nuclear submarines permanently, that would be more than enough of the minimum deterrent sought.

Indeed, India’s public has been barely informed of civilian nuclear energy policy as well, and an opportunity now exists for a mature national debate to take place — both on what and why the military planning has been and what it costs (and whether any bribes have been paid), and also on the cost, efficiency and safety of the plans for greater civilian use of nuclear energy. Government behaviour after the Bhopal gas tragedy does not inspire confidence about Indian responses to a Three Mile Island/Chernobyl kind of catastrophic meltdown.

That being said, the central question remains why India or anyone else needs to be nuclear-armed at all. With Britain, France or Russia, there is no war though all three are always keen to sell India weapons. Indeed it has been a perennial question why France and Britain need their own deterrents. They have not fought one another for more than 100 years and play rugby instead. If Russia was an enemy, could they not count on America? Or could America itself conceivably become an enemy of Britain and France? America owes her origins to both, and though the Americans did fight the British until the early 1800s, they have never fought the French and love the City of Paris too much ever to do so.

Between China and India, regardless of what happened half a century ago, nuclear or any war other than border skirmishes in sparse barren lands is unlikely. Ever since Sun Yat-sen, China has been going through a complex process of self-discovery and self-definition. An ancient nation where Maoism despoiled the traditional culture and destroyed Tibet, China causes others to fear it because of its inscrutability. But it has not been aggressive in recent decades except with Taiwan. It has threatened nuclear war on America if the Americans stand up for Taiwan, but that is not a quarrel in which India has a cogent role. China (for seemingly commercial reasons) did join hands with Pakistan against India, but there is every indication the Chinese are quite bored with what Pakistan has become. With Pakistan, our situation is well-known, and there has been an implicit equilibrium since Pokhran II finally flushed out their capacity. Had India ever any ambition of using conventional war to knock out and occupy Pakistan as a country? Of course not. We are barely able to govern ourselves, let aside try to rule an ideologically hostile Muslim colony in the NorthWest. Pakistan’s purported reasons for acquiring nuclear bombs are spurious, and cruelly so in view of the abject failures of Pakistan’s domestic political economy. Could Pakistan’s Government use its bombs against India arising from its own self-delusions over J&K? Gohar Ayub Khan in 1998-1999 threatened to do so when he said the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender. He thereby became the exception to Eisenhower’s rule requiring sanity. An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange is, unfortunately, not impossible, leaving J&K as Hell where Jahangir had once described it as Heaven on Earth.

America needs to end her recent jingoism and instead rediscover the legacy of Eisenhower. America can lead everyone in the world today including Russia, China, Israel, Iran and North Korea. But she can do so only by example. America can decommission many of her own nuclear weapons and then lead everyone else to the conference table to do at least some of the same. Like the UN, the IAEA (and its NPT) needs urgent reform itself. It is the right time for serious and new world parleys towards the safe use of atoms for peace and their abolition in war. But are there any Eisenhowers or Churchills to lead them?

2) Our  energy interests ( Aug 27-28 2006)

Americans are shrewd and practical people in commercial matters, and expect the same of people they do business with. Caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”, is the motto they expect those on the other side of the table to be using. Let us not think they are doing us favours in the nuclear deal ~ they are grown-ups looking after their interests and naturally expect we shall look after our own and not expect charity while doing business. Equally, let us not blame the Americans if we find in later years (long after Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have exited from India’s stage) that the deal has been implemented in a bad way for our masses of ordinary people.

That said, there is a remarkable disjoint between India’s national energy interests (nuclear interests in particular), and the manner in which the nuclear deal is being perceived and taken to implementation by the two sides. There may be a fundamental gap between the genuine positive benefits the Government of India says the deal contains, and the motivations American businessmen and through them Indian businessmen have had for lobbying American and Indian politicians to support it. An atmosphere of being at cross-purposes has been created, where for example Manmohan Singh is giving answers to questions different from the questions we may want to be asking Montek Ahluwalia. The fundamental gap between what is being said by our Government and what may be intended by the businessmen is something anyone can grasp, though first we shall need some elementary facts.

In 2004, the International Energy Agency estimated the new energy capacity required by rising economic growth in 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources like solar or wind power. Because gas prices are expected to remain low worldwide, construction of new nuclear reactors for electricity will be unprofitable. By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700GW, of which only 150GW is expected from new nuclear plants, which will be in any case replacing existing plants due to be retired. Rational choice between different energy sources depends on costs determined by history and geography. Out of some 441 civilian reactors worldwide, France has 59 and these generate 78 per cent of its electricity, the rest coming from hydro. Japan has 54 reactors, generating 34% of its electricity from them. The USA has 104 reactors but generates only 20 per cent of its electricity from them, given its vast alternative sources of power like hydro. In India as of 2003, installed power generating capacity was 107,533.3MW, of which 71 per cent came from burning fuels. Among India’s energy sources, the largest growth-potential is hydroelectric, which does not involve burning fuels ~ gravity moves water from the mountains to the oceans, and this force is harnessed for generation. Our hydro potential, mostly in the North and North-East, is some 150,000MW but our total installed hydro capacity with utilities was only 26,910MW (about 18 per cent of potential). Our 14 civilian nuclear reactors produced merely 4 per cent or less of the electricity being consumed in the country. Those 14 plants will come under “international safeguards” by 2014 under the nuclear deal.

It is extremely likely the international restrictions our existing nuclear plants have been under since the 1970s have hindered if not crippled their functioning and efficiency. At the same time, the restrictions may have caused us to be innovative too. Nuclear power arises from fission of radioactive uranium, plutonium or thorium. India has some 8 million tonnes of monazite deposits along the seacoast of which half may be mined, to yield 225,000 tonnes of thorium metal; we have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction. Almost all nuclear energy worldwide today arises from uranium of which there are practically unlimited reserves. Fission of a uranium atom produces 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. Gas and fossil fuels may be cheap and in plentiful supply worldwide for generations to come but potential for cheap nuclear energy seems practically infinite. The uranium in seawater can satisfy mankind’s total electricity needs for 7 million years. There is more energy in the uranium impurity present in coal than can arise from actually burning the coal. There is plenty of uranium in granite. None of these become profitable for centuries because there is so much cheap uranium extractable from conventional ores. Design improvements in reactors will also improve productivity; e.g. “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do. India has about 95,000 tonnes of uranium metal that may be mined to yield about 61,000 tonnes net for power generation. Natural uranium is 99.3 per cent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 per cent of the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power generation requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” to be created in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 per cent to 4 to 5 percent. (Nuclear bombs require highly enriched uranium with more than 90 per cent of U-235.) Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In a reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines generating electricity. While there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, almost impossible to dispose of.

The plausible part of the Government of India’s official line on the Indo-US nuclear deal is that removing the international restrictions will ~ through importation of new technologies, inputs, fuel etc ~ improve functioning of our 14 existing civilian plants. That is a good thing. Essentially, the price being paid for that improvement is our willingness to commit that those 14 plants will not be used for military purposes. Fair enough: even if we might become less innovative as a result, the overall efficiency gains as a result of the deal will add something to India’s productivity. However, those purchasing decisions involved in enhancing India’s efficiency gains must be made by the Government’s nuclear scientists on technical grounds of improving the working of our existing nuclear infrastructure.

It is a different animal altogether to be purchasing new nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis from American or any other foreign businessmen in a purported attempt to improve India’s “energy security”. (Lalu Yadav has requested a new reactor for Bihar, plus of course Delhi will want one, etc.) The central question over such massive foreign purchases would no longer be the technical one of using the Indo-US deal to improve efficiency or productivity of our existing nuclear infrastructure. Instead it would become a question of calculating social costs and benefits of our investing in nuclear power relative to other sources like hydroelectric power. Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100 per cent under the Manmohan-Montek deal-making, that would mean less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced.

This is where the oddities arise and a disjoint becomes apparent between what the Government of India is saying and what American and Indian businessmen have been doing. A “US-India Business Council” has existed for thirty years in Washington as “the premier business advocacy organization promoting US commercial interests in India.… the voice of the American private sector investing in India”. Before the nuclear or any other deals could be contemplated with American business, the USIBC insisted we pay up for Dabhol contracted by a previous Congress Government. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board ~ or rather, its sovereign guarantor the Government of India ~ duly paid out at least $140-$160 million each to General Electric and Bechtel Corporations in “an amicable settlement” of the Dabhol affair. Afterwards, General Electric’s CEO for India was kind enough to say “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

Also, a new “US-India CEO Forum” then came about. For two Governments to sponsor private business via such a Forum was “unprecedented”, as noted by Washington’s press during Manmohan Singh’s visit in July 2005. America’s foreign ministry announced it saying: “Both our governments have agreed that we should create a high-level private sector forum to exchange business community views on key economic priorities…” The American side includes heads of AES Corporation, Cargill Inc., Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, McGraw-Hill, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, PepsiCo, Visa International and Xerox Corporation. The Indian side includes heads of Tata Group, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bharat Forge Ltd, Biocon India Group, HDFC, ICICI One Source, Infosys, ITC Ltd, Max India Group and Reliance Industries. Presiding over the Indian side has been Montek Ahluwalia, Manmohan’s trusted aide ~ and let it be remembered too that the Ahluwalias were Manmohan’s strongest backers in his failed South Delhi Lok Sabha bid. (Indeed it is not clear if the Ahluwalias have been US or Indian residents in recent years, and if it is the former, the onus is on them to clear any perception of conflict of interest arising in regard to roles regarding the nuclear deal or any other official Indo-US business.)

Also, before the Manmohan visit, the Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official lobbyist in Washington, and went about spending half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the nuclear deal. After the Manmohan visit, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1,000 billion (1 bn =100 crore) opportunity in India. Before President Bush’s visit to India in March 2006, Manmohan Singh signed vast purchases of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, as well as large weapons’ deals with France and Russia. After the Bush visit, the US Chamber of Commerce said the nuclear deal can cause $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. What is going on?

Finally, the main aspect of Manmohan Singh’s address to America’s legislature had to do with agreeing with President Bush “to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology”. What precisely does this mean? If it means the Indo-US nuclear deal will help India improve or maintain its existing nuclear infrastructure, well and good. There may be legitimate business for American and other foreign companies in that cause, which also helps India make the efficiency and productivity gains mentioned. Or has the real motivation for the American businessmen driving the deal (with the help of the “CEO Forum” etc) been to sell India nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis (in collaboration with private Indian businessmen) at a time when building new nuclear reactors is unprofitable elsewhere in the world because of low gas prices? India’s citizens may demand to know from the Government whether the Manmohan-Montek deal-making is going to cause importation of new nuclear reactors, and if so, why such an expensive alternative is being considered (relative to e.g. India’s abundant hydroelectric potential) when it will have scant effect in satisfying the country’s energy needs and lead merely to a worsening of our macroeconomic problems. Both Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have been already among those to preside over the growth of India’s macroeconomic problems through the 1980s and 1990s.

Lastly, an irrelevant distraction should be gotten out of the way. Are we a “nuclear weapons” state? Of course we are, but does it matter to anything but our vanity? Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had control over vastly more nuclear weapons and they declared together twenty years ago: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought”, which is how the Cold War started to come to an end. We need to remind ourselves that India and Pakistan are large, populous countries with hundreds of millions of materially poor, ill-informed citizens, weak tax-bases, humongous internal and external public debts (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), non-investment grade credit- ratings in world financial markets, massive annual fiscal deficits, inconvertible currencies, nationalized banks, and runaway printing of paper-money. Discussing nuclear or other weapon-systems to attack one other with is mostly a pastime of our cowardly, irresponsible and yes, corrupt, elites.

3) Need for Clarity A poorly drafted treaty driven by business motives is a recipe for international misunderstanding  (August 19 2007)

Confusion prevails over the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians, diplomats, scientists and now the public at large have all joined in the cacophony in the last two years. On Wednesday August 15, America’s foreign ministry made the clearest most unequivocal statement possible as to the official American Government interpretation of the Indo-US nuclear deal: “The proposed 123 agreement has provisions in it that in an event of a nuclear test by India, then all nuclear co-operation is terminated, as well as there is provision for return of all materials, including reprocessed material covered by the agreement” (Sean McCormack). Yet our Prime Minister had told Parliament two days earlier: “The agreement does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests, if it is necessary”. What is going on? Our politics are in uproar, and it has been suggested in these pages that the country go to a General Election to allow the people to speak on the matter. Clearly, we need some clarity.

Let us start at the beginning. How did it all originate? The private US nuclear industry prevailed upon India’s government bureaucrats and businessmen over several years that nuclear power is the way forward to solving India’s “infrastructure” problems. They would sell us, in words of the Manmohan-Montek Planning Commission’s energy adviser, “six to eight lightwater reactors” (especially as they may not be able to sell these anywhere else). Our usual prominent self-seeking retired bureaucrats started their waffling about the importance of “infrastructure”.

Then Manmohan Singh felt his foreign travels as PM could be hardly complete without a fife-and-drum visit to the White House. But before he could do so, Dabhol would have to be cleared up since American business in India was on a self-moratorium until GE and Bechtel were paid settlements of some $140-160 million each by the Governments of India and Maharashtra. GE’s CEO for India kindly said afterwards “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

Also, before Manmohan’s USA trip, the Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official Washington lobbyist and spent half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the deal. (”Why?” would be a good question.)

So Dr Singh was able to make his White House visit, accompanied by US business lobbies saying the nuclear deal can generate $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. It is only when business has lubricated politics in America that so much agreement about the India-deal could arise. The “bottom-line” is that six to eight reactors must be sold to India, whatever politics and diplomacy it takes.

Now Dr Singh is not a PM who is a Member of the Lower House of Parliament commanding its confidence. He says his Government constitutes the Executive and can sign treaties on India’s behalf. This is unwise. If he signs a treaty and then the Congress Party loses the next General Election, a new Executive Government can use his same words to rescind the same treaty. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. One reason we are so confused is that India has not signed very many bilateral treaties, and there is barely a noted specialist in international law anywhere in the country. Dr Singh’s original mentor, PN Haksar, had gone about getting a treaty signed with the USSR back in 1971 which tided us over a war, though the USSR itself collapsed before that treaty ended.

Signing a treaty is much more than signing an international MOU. It requires a national consensus or a least a wide and deep understanding on the part of the public and the political class as to what necessitates the treaty. That plainly does not exist at present. Most people in India do not even know how nuclear power is generated, nor how small and insignificant nuclear power has been in India.

Natural uranium is 99.3 per cent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 per cent the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power generation requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” to be created in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 per cent to 4 to 5 percent. (Nuclear bombs require “highly enriched” uranium with more than 90 per cent of U-235.) Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In a reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines generating electricity. While there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, almost impossible to dispose of.

India’s 14 “civilian” nuclear reactors presently produce less than 4% of our total power. 70% of our power arises from burning fossil fuels, mainly coal. Much of the rest arises from hydro. We have vast hydroelectric potential in the North and Northeast but it would take a lot of serious political, administrative and civil engineering effort to organise all that, and there would not be any nice visits to Washington or Paris involved for politicians and bureaucrats.

Simple arithmetic says that even if all our principal energy sources stayed constant and only our tiny nuclear power sector grew by 100%, that would still hardly increase by very much our energy output overall. Placing a couple of expensive modern lightwater reactors around Delhi, a couple around Mumbai and a few other metros will, however, butter already buttered bread quite nicely and keep all those lifts and ACs running.

The agreed text of the “treaty” looks, from a legal standpoint, quite sloppily and hurriedly written ~ almost as if each side has cut and paste its own preferred terms in different places with a nod to the other side. For example, there is mention of “WMD” initially which is repeated as “weapons of mass destruction” just a little later. There is solemn mention of the “Government of India” and “Government of the United States of America” as the “Parties”, but this suddenly becomes merely “United States” and “India” in the middle and then reverts again to the formal usage.

Through the sloppiness comes scope for different interpretations. The Americans have said: try not to test, you don’t need to, we don’t test any more, and you have to know that if you do test, this deal is over, in fact it gets reversed. We have said, okay, we won’t test, and if we do test we know it is over with you but that does not mean it is over with others. Given such sloppy diplomacy and treaty-making, the scope for mutual misunderstanding, even war, remains immense long after all the public Indian moneys have found their way into private pockets worldwide. Will a future President Jeb Bush or Chelsea Clinton send F-22 bombers to bomb India’s nuclear facilities because India has carried out a test yet declined to return American equipment? Riding a tiger is not something generally to be recommended.

The answer to our present conundrum must be patience and the fullest transparency. What is the rush? If it is good or bad for us to buy six or eight new American reactors now, it will remain good or bad to do so a year or two from now after everyone has had a thorough think about everything that is involved. What the Manmohan-Montek Planning Commission needed to do first of all was a thorough cost-benefit analysis of India’s energy requirements but such elementary professionalism has been sorely lacking among our economists for decades.”

Subroto Roy

On the general theory of expertise in democracy: reflections on what emerges from the American “torture memos” today

Twenty years ago, I wrote in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, London & New York, 1989) quoting from Solzhenitsyn’s experience:

“….the received theory of economic policy… must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal’” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”..… A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes…”

Today’s Washington Post reports:

“When the CIA began what it called an “increased pressure phase” with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee’s human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist. During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so. “No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted,” a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture. The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions. Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program. “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology,” said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. “All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency’s self-described “enhanced interrogation program,” which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas. “The fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government’s orders. The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations “to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it,” according to a former CIA official. The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. AMA policies state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened.” The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only “if doing so is in their [detainees’] best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” The American Psychological Association has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization faulted it for failing to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The ICRC, which conducted the first independent interviews of CIA detainees in 2006, said the prisoners were told they would not be killed during interrogations, though one was warned that he would be brought to “the verge of death and back again,” according to a confidential ICRC report leaked to the New York Review of Books last month. “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics,” the ICRC report concluded….” (emphasis added)

Twenty-five years ago, the draft-manuscript that became the book Philosophy of Economics got me into much trouble in American academia. As I have said elsewhere, a gang of “inert game theorists”, similar to many (often unemployable ex-mathematicians) who had come to and still dominate what passes for academic economics in many American and European universities, did not like at all what I was saying. A handful of eminent senior economists – Frank Hahn, T W Schultz, Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, Sidney Alexander – defended my work and but for their support over the decade 1979-1989, my book would not have seen light of day.  Eventually, I have had to battle over years in the US federal courts over it – only to find myself having to battle bribery of court officers and the suborning of perjury by government legal officers  too! (And speaking of government-paid psychologists, I was even required at one point by my corrupt opponent to undergo tests for having had the temerity of being in court at all! Fortunately for me that particular psychologist declined to participate in the nefariousness of his employer!).

I find all this poignant today as Philosophy of Economics may have, among other things, described the general theoretical problem that has been brought to light today.  I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1993 that my book had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn all over an alley in the bookshop.

Separately, I am also delighted to find that a person pioneering the current work is a daughter of our present PM. I have been sharply critical of Dr Singh’s economics and politics, but I have also said I have had high personal regard for him ever since 1973 when he, as a friend of my father’s, visited our then-home in Paris to advise me before I embarked on my study of economics. My salute to the ACLU’s work in this – may it be an example in defeating cases of State-tyranny in India too.

Subroto Roy,

My American years Part One 1980-90: battles for academic integrity & freedom

On the Blacksburg campus February 1982, my second year in America.

I had come to Blacksburg in August 1980 thanks to a letter Professor Frank Hahn had written on my behalf to Professor James M Buchanan in January 1980.

I was in an “All But Dissertation” stage at Cambridge when I got to Blacksburg; I completed the thesis while teaching in Blacksburg, sent it from there in September 1981, and went back to Cambridge for the viva voce examination in January 1982.

Professor Buchanan and his colleagues were welcoming and I came to learn much from them about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I very soon applied to my work on India.

Jim Buchanan had a reputation for running very tough conferences of scholars. He invited me to one such in the Spring of 1981. We were made to work very hard indeed. One of the books prescribed is still with me, In Search of a Monetary Constitution, ed. Leland Yeager, Harvard 1962, and something I still recommend to anyone wishing to understand the classical liberal position on monetary policy. The week-long 1981 conference had one rest-day; it was spent in part at an excellent theatre in a small rural town outside Blacksburg. This photo is of Jim Buchanan on the left and Gordon Tullock on the right; in between them is Ken Minogue of the London School of Economics — who, as it happened, had been Tutor for Admissions when I became a freshman there seven years earlier.

(I must have learnt something from Jim Buchanan about running conferences because nine years later in May-June 1989 at the University of Hawaii, I made the participants of the India-perestroika and Pakistan-perestroika conferences work very hard too.)

My first rooms in America in 1980 were in the attic of 703 Gracelyn Court, where I paid $160 or $170 per month to my marvellous landlady Betty Tillman. There were many family occasions I enjoyed with her family downstairs, and her cakes, bakes and puddings all remain with me today.

A borrowed electric typewriter may be seen in the photo: the age of the personal computer was still a few years away. The Department had a stand-alone “AB-Dic” word-processor which we considered a marvel of technology; the Internet did not exist but there was some kind of Intranet between geeks in computer science and engineering departments at different universities.

It was at Gracelyn Court that this letter reached me addressed by FA Hayek himself.

Professor Buchanan had moved to Blacksburg from Charlottesville some years earlier with the Centre for Study of Public Choice that he had founded. The Centre came to be housed at the President’s House of Virginia Tech (presumably the University President himself had another residence).

I was initially a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre and at the same time a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Economics Department. I was very kindly given a magnificent office at the Centre, on the upper floor, perhaps the one on the upper right hand side in the picture. It was undoubtedly the finest room I have ever had as an office. I may have had it for a whole year, either 1980-81 or 1981-82. When Professor Buchanan and the Centre left for George Mason University in 1983, the mansion returned to being the University President’s House and my old office presumably became a fine bedroom again.

I spent the summer of 1983 at a long libertarian conference in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area in California. This is a photo from a barbecue during the conference with Professor Jean Baechler from France on the left; Leonard Liggio, who (along with Walter Grinder) had organised the conference, is at the right.

The first draft of the book that became Philosophy of Economics was written (in long hand) during that summer of 1983 in Palo Alto/Menlo Park. The initial title was “Principia Economica”, and the initial contracted publisher, the University of Chicago Press, had that title on the contract.

My principal supporter at the University of Chicago was that great American Theodore W. Schultz, then aged 81,

to whom the Press had initially sent the manuscript for review and who had recommended its prompt publication. Professor Schultz later told me to my face better what my book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge, the epistemology of economics.

My parents came from India to visit me in California, and here we are at Yosemite.

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Also to visit were Mr and Mrs Willis C Armstrong, our family friends who had known me from infancy. This is a photo of Bill and my mother on the left, and Louise and myself on the right, taken perhaps by my father. In the third week of January 1991, during the first Gulf War, Bill and I (acting on behalf of Rajiv Gandhi) came to form an extremely tenuous bridge between the US Administration and Saddam Hussain for about 24 hours, in an attempt to get a withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait without further loss of life. In December 1991 I gave the widow of Rajiv Gandhi a small tape containing my long-distance phone conversations from America with Rajiv during that episode.

I had driven with my sheltie puppy from Blacksburg to Palo Alto  — through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona; my parents and I now drove with him back to Blacksburg from California, through Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia.  It may be a necessary though not sufficient condition to drive across America (or any other country) in order to understand it.

After a few days, we drove to New York via Pennsylvania where I became Visiting Assistant Professor in the Cornell Economics Department (on leave from being Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech). The few months at Cornell were noteworthy for the many long sessions I spent with Max Black. I shall add more about that here in due course. My parents returned to India (via Greece where my sister was) in the Autumn of 1983.

In May 1984, Indira Gandhi ruled in Delhi, and the ghost of Brezhnev was still fresh in Moscow. The era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America was at its height. Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India emerging from my doctoral thesis though written in Blacksburg and Ithaca in 1982-1983, came to be published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs on May 29 as Occasional Paper No. 69, ISBN: 0-255 36169-6; its text is reproduced elsewhere here.

ppp1984

It was the first critique after BR Shenoy of India’s Sovietesque economics since Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. The Times, London’s most eminent paper at the time, wrote its lead editorial comment about it on the day it was published, May 29 1984.

londonti

It used to take several days for the library at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to receive its copy of The Times of London and other British newspapers. I had not been told of the date of publication and did not know of what had happened in London on May 29 until perhaps June 2 — when a friend, Vasant Dave of a children’s charity, who was on campus, phoned me and congratulated me for being featured in The Times which he had just read in the University Library. “You mean they’ve reviewed it?” I asked him, “No, it’s the lead editorial.” “What?” I exclaimed. There was worse. Vasant was very soft-spoken and said “Yes, it’s titled ‘India’s Bad Example’” — which I misheard on the phone as “India’s Mad Example” 😀 Drat! I thought (or words to that effect), they must have lambasted me, as I rushed down to the Library to take a look.

The Times had said

“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India. If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is. A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World. As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence. But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy. We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence. How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong? Dr Roy has the answers for them. He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats. The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.” Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches. No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector. He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift. It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi. Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West. The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.” All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..

I felt this may have been intended to be laudatory but it was also inaccurate and had to be corrected. I replied dated June 4 which The Times published in their edition of June 16 1984:

timesletter-11

I was 29 when Pricing, Planning and Politics was published, I am 54 now. I do not agree with everything I said in it and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was also five years before my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics would be published. My experience of life in the years since has also made me far less sanguine both about human nature and about America than I was then. But I am glad to find I am not embarrassed by what I said then, indeed I am pleased I said what I did in favour of classical liberalism and against statism and totalitarianism well before it became popular to do so after the Berlin Wall fell. (In India as elsewhere, former communist apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became pseudo-liberals overnight.)

The editorial itself may have been due to a conversation between Peter Bauer and William Rees-Mogg, so I later heard. The work sold 700 copies in its first month, a record for the publisher. The wife of one prominent Indian bureaucrat told me in Delhi in December 1988 it had affected her husband’s thinking drastically. A senior public finance economist told me he had been deputed at the Finance Ministry when the editorial appeared, and the Indian High Commission in London had urgently sent a copy of the editorial to the Ministry where it caused a stir. An IMF official told me years later that he saw the editorial on board a flight to India from the USA on the same day, and stopped in London to make a trip to the LSE’s bookshop to purchase a copy. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University had been a critic of aspects of Indian policy; he received a copy of the monograph in draft just before it was published and was kind enough to write I had “done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”  My great professor at Cambridge, Frank Hahn, would be kind enough to say that he thought my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds” — something that has been a source of delight to me.

Siddhartha Shankar Ray told me when we first met that he had been in London when the editorial appeared and had seen it there; it affected his decision to introduce me to Rajiv Gandhi as warmly as he came to do a half dozen years later.

In the Autumn of 1984, I went, thanks to Edwin Feulner Jr of the Heritage Foundation,  to attend the Mont Pelerin Society Meetings being held at Cambridge (on “parole” from the US immigration authorities as my “green card” was being processed at the time). There I met for the first time Professor and Mrs Milton Friedman.

Milton Friedman’s November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India is referred to in my monograph as “unpublished” in note 1; when I met Milton and Rose, I gave them a copy of my monograph; and requested Milton for his unpublished document; when he returned to Stanford he sent to me in Blacksburg his original 1955-56 documents on Indian planning. I published the 1955 document for the first time in May 1989 during the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project I was then leading, it appeared later in the 1992 volume Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James. (The results of the Hawaii project reached Rajiv Gandhi through my hand in September 1990, as told elsewhere here in “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”.) The 1956 document was published in November 2006 on the front page of The Statesman, the same day my obituary of Milton appeared in the inside pages.

Meanwhile, my main work within economic theory, the “Principia Economica” manuscript, was being read by the University of Chicago Press’s five or six anonymous referees. One of them pointed out my argument had been anticipated years earlier in the work of MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander. I had no idea of this and was surprised; of course I knew Professor Alexander’s work in balance of payments theory but not in this field. I went to visit Professor Alexander in Boston, where this photo came to be taken perhaps in late 1984:

Professor Alexander was extremely gracious, and immediately declared with great generosity that it was clear to him my arguments in “Principia Economica” had been developed entirely independently of his work. He had come at the problem from an American philosophical tradition of Dewey, I had done so from a British tradition of Wittgenstein. (CS Peirce was probably the bridge between the two.) He and I had arrived at some similar conclusions but we had done so completely independently.

Also, I was much honoured by this letter of May 1 1984 sent to Blacksburg by Professor Sir John Hicks (1904-1989), among the greatest of 20th Century economists at the time, where he acknowledged his departure in later life from the position he had taken in 1934 and 1939 on the foundations of demand theory.

He later sent me a copy of his Wealth and Welfare: Collected Essays on Economic Theory, Vol. I, MIT Press 1981, as a gift. The context of our correspondence had to do with my criticism of the young Hicks and support for the ghost of Alfred Marshall in an article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” I was publishing in the journal History of Political Economy published then at Duke University. In Philosophy of Economics, I would come to say about Hicks’s letter to me “It may be a sign of the times that economists, great and small, rarely if ever disclaim their past opinions; it is therefore an especially splendid example to have a great economist like Hicks doing so in this matter.” It was reminiscent of Gottlob Frege’s response to Russell’s paradox; Philosophy of Economics described Frege’s “Letter to Russell”, 1902 (Heijenoort, From Frege to Gödel, pp. 126-128) as “a document which must remain one of the most noble in all of modern scholarship; a fact recorded in Russell’s letter to Heijenoort.”

In Blacksburg, by the Summer and Fall of 1984 I was under attack following the arrival of what I considered “a gang of inert game theorists” — my theoretical manuscript had blown a permanent hole through what passes by the name of “social choice theory”, and they did not like it. Nor did they like the fact that I seemed to them to be a “conservative”/classical liberal Indian and my applied work on India’s economy seemed to their academic agenda an irrelevance. This is myself at the height of that attack in January 1985:

Professor Schultz at the University of Chicago came to my rescue and at his recommendation I was appointed Visiting Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

I declined, without thanks, the offer of another year at Virginia Tech.

On my last day in Blacksburg, a graduate student whom I had helped when she had been assaulted by a senior professor, cooked a meal before I started the drive West across the country. This is a photo from that meal:

In Provo, I gratefully found refuge at the excellent Economics Department led at the time by Professor Larry Wimmer.

It was at Provo that I first had a personal computer on my desk (an IBM as may be seen) and what a delight that was (no matter the noises that it made).  I recall being struck by the fact a colleague possessed the incredible luxury of a portable personal computer (no one else did) which he could take home with him.   It looked like an enormous briefcase but was apparently the technology-leader at the time.  (Laptops seem not to have been invented as of 1985).

In October 1985, Professor Frank Hahn very kindly wrote to Larry Wimmer revising his 1980 opinion of my work now that the PhD was done, the India-work had led to The Times editorial and the theoretical work was proceeding well.

I had applied for a permanent position at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and had been interviewed positively at the American Economic Association meetings (in New York) in December 1985 by the department chairman Professor Fred C. Hung. At Provo, Dr James Moncur of the Manoa Department was visiting. Jim became a friend and recommended me to his colleagues in Manoa.

Professor Hung appointed me to that department as a “senior” Assistant Professor on tenure-track beginning September 1986. I had bargained for a rank of “Associate Professor” but was told the advertisement did not allow it; instead I was assured of being an early candidate for promotion and tenure subject to my book “Principia Economica” being accepted for publication. (The contract with the University of Chicago Press had become frayed.)

Hawaii was simply a superb place (though expensive).

Professor James Buchanan won the Economics “Nobel” in 1986 and I was asked by the Manoa Department to help raise its profile by inviting him to deliver a set of lectures, which he did excellently well in March 1988 to the University as well as the Honolulu community at large. Here he is at my 850 sq ft small condominium at Punahou Towers, 1621 Dole Street:

In August 1988, my manuscript “Principia Economica” was finally accepted for publication by Routledge of London and New York under the title Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason In Economic Inquiry. The contract with University of Chicago Press had fallen through and the manuscript was being read by Yale University Press and a few others but Routledge came through with the first concrete offer. I was delighted and these photos were taken in the Economics Department at Manoa by a colleague in September 1988 as the publisher needed them.

Milton and Rose Friedman came to Honolulu on a private holiday perhaps in January 1989; they had years earlier spent a sabbatical year at the Department.

Here is a luncheon that was arranged in their honour. They had in the Fall of 1988 been on their famous visit to China, and as I recall that was the main subject of discussion on the occasion.

Milton phoned me in my Manoa office and invited me to meet him and Rose at their hotel for a chat; we had met first at the 1984 Mont Pelerin meetings and he wished to know me better. I was honoured and turned up dutifully and we talked for perhaps an hour. I recall making a strong recommendation that he write his memoirs, especially so that the rumours and innuendo surrounding eg the Chile episode could be cleared up; I also said a “Collected Works” would be a great idea; when Milton and Rose published their memoirs Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998) I wondered if my first suggestion had come to be taken; as to the second, he wrote to me years later saying he felt no Collected Works were necessary.

From 1986 onwards, I had been requested by the University of Hawaii to lead a project with William E James on the political economy of “South Asia” .I had said there was no such place, that “South Asia” was a US State Department abstraction but there were India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and Afghanistan etc. Sister projects on India and Pakistan had been sponsored by the University, and in 1989 important conferences had been planned by myself and James in May for India and in June for Pakistan.

I was determined to publish for the first time Milton’s 1955 memorandum on India which the Government of India had suppressed or ignored at the time. At the hotel-meeting, I told Milton that and requested him to come to the India-conference in May; Milton and Rose said they would think about it, and later confirmed he would come for the first two days.

This is a photo of the initial luncheon at the home of the University President on May 21 1989. Milton and India’s Ambassador to the USA at the time were both garlanded with Hawaiian leis. The first photo was one of a joke from Milton as I recall which had everyone laughing.

There was no equivalent photo of the distinguished scholars who gathered for the Pakistan conference a month later.

The reason was that from February 1989 onwards I had become the victim of a most vicious racist defamation, engineered within the Economics Department at Manoa by a senior professor as a way to derail me before my expected Promotion and Tenure application in the Fall. All my extra time went to battling that though somehow I managed to teach some monetary economics well enough in 1989-1990 for a Japanese student to insist on being photographed with me and the book we had studied.

I was being seen by two or three temporarily powerful characters on the Manoa campus as an Uppity Indian who must be brought down. This time I decided to fight back — and what a saga came to unfold! It took me into the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii and then the Ninth Circuit and upto the United States Supreme Court, not once but twice.

Milton Friedman and Theodore Schultz stood valiantly among my witnesses — first writing to the University’s authorities and later deposing in federal court.

Unfortunately, government lawyers, far from wanting to uphold and respect the laws of the United States, chose to deliberately violate them — compromising a judge, suborning demonstrable perjury and then brazenly purchasing my hired attorney (and getting caught doing it). Since September 2007, the State of Hawaii’s attorneys have been invited by me to return to the federal court and apologise for their unlawful behaviour as they are required by law to do.

They had not expected me to survive their illegalities but I did: I kept going.

Philosophy of Economics was published in London and New York in September 1989

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The hardback quickly sold out on its own steam and the book went into paperback in 1991, and I was delighted to learn from a friend that it had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn along an alley in the bookshop:

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The sister-volumes on India and Pakistan emerging from the University of Hawaii project led by myself and James were published in 1992 and 1993 in India, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.

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As described elsewhere, the manuscript of the India-volume contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform during my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi in his last months; the Pakistan-volume came to contribute to the origins of the Pakistan-India peace process. The Indian publisher who had promised paperback volumes of both books reneged under leftwing pressure in Delhi; he has since passed away and James and I still await the University of Hawaii’s permission to publish both volumes freely on the Internet as copyright rests with the University President.

In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission stating that it was possible that had the vicious illegalities against me not occurred at Manoa starting in 1989, we may have gone on after India and Pakistan to study Afghanistan, and come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis a decade before September 11 2001.

To be continued in Part Two.

The “three-state solution” for the Middle East (and why has Tony Blair not resigned when Israel attacked Gaza?) 2009

A few thousand years ago, Moses (whom Freud identified as likely to have been a monotheistic Egyptian nobleman) led the Hebrews out of Egypt. A year ago, Hamas blew up the much-hated wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt with explosives, after secretly over months cutting heavy metal using oxyacetylene torches. Some three hundred and fifty thousand Gazans poured into Egypt’s Rafah town and market to buy food, medicine, cigarettes, petrol, cows, goats, sheep, camel, televisions, mobile phones etc. Israel’s wicked blockade of Gaza was broken. Hosni Mubarak apparently instructed Egyptian border guards not to resist the Palestinian crowds from entering Egypt, and stated that as long as they returned without weapons they were free to trade as they wished. Egypt could hardly have done anything else – Cairo had seen pro-Palestinian demonstrations and Mubarak’s police had arrested some 500 members of the  Muslim Brotherhood. The official Israeli response was “the free passage of Palestinians into Egypt and back, without any supervision, significantly increases the threat coming from the Strip”. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said “it is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates properly, according to the signed agreements. We expect the Egyptians to solve the problem. Obviously we are worried about the situation. It could potentially allow anybody to enter.” But Egypt can hardly solve this problem other than by offering to extend Egyptian sovereignty to the whole of the Gaza Strip. Something similar would have to be done with the West Bank becoming absorbed officially into Jordan. The Palestinian people would then not have their own state after all but have been divided between the formal territories of Egypt, Jordan and of course Israel itself (is not Israel technically a secular country without a state religion?). Gaza and the West Bank could be autonomous regions within Egyptian and Jordanian sovereignty respectively. The Palestinians at least would be able to buy flour and have normal lives and not have been made to live in the open-air prison that they do now. The people of Gaza would have been spared the Israeli atrocity that has been going on in the last several weeks.

 

 

There are and have been uncountable quasi-nationalities who have not had their own nation-states. Kurds are divided between Turkey, Iraq and Iran;  Baloch are divided between Iran and Pakistan; Pashtuns are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan;  Kashmiris  (and for that matter Punjabis and Sindhis) are divided between Pakistan and India; Bengalis are divided between India and Bangladesh;  Tamils are divided between India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore; Tibetans are divided between India and China etc etc, and that is only in half of Asia. There are multitudinous cases all over Europe (and Britain), Africa and also the Americas and elsewhere. The Palestinians would have become one such. And like Poland being divided between Germany and Russia, or between Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Russia even earlier (on this see the inimitable Joseph Conrad Notes on Life and Letters), a people who have been divided without a separate identity can sometimes find themselves independent again as history progresses.

 

 

Islamic Iran has wished a “one-state” solution with the Palestinians and Israelis living together harmoniously, something that seems utopian at best, devious at worst — though recall too Martin Buber’s letter to Tagore.   British foreign policy invented the “two-state” solution ever since the Balfour declaration. It has proved infeasible. Tony Blair became the so-called “Quartet envoy” or whatever immediately after being UK prime minister and was supposed to herald in the two-state solution. He palpably failed and should have resigned when Israel attacked Gaza last month but that may have been too much to expect. Israel today seems to want to impose the “zero-state” solution by extinguishing Gaza (though at one time, pre-PLO and pre-Arafat perhaps, Israel may have proposed itself the annexation of Gaza and the West Bank by Egypt and Jordan respectively).

 

 

All things considered, the “three-state” solution may be the only practical and civilized alternative in the circumstances. Palestine would indeed be remembered, as a place and a culture and a people, and at least the Palestinians would be able to live and thrive and not be attacked.

 

 

Subroto Roy

India-USA interests: Elements of a serious Indian foreign policy (2007)

India-USA interests: Elements of a serious Indian foreign policy

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Oct 30 2007

If there is a “natural alliance” between India and the United States, it arises to the extent that both are large democracies and more or less free societies that happen to be placed half way across the globe and pose no perceptible military threat to one another. The real long-term strategic and political dimensions of such an alliance are quite independent of the business interests driving the “nuclear deal” or selfish interests of the few million “elite” Indians who have fled to the USA as immigrants in recent decades. The interests of Indian immigrants in the USA and interests of the vast masses in India are, after all, quite distinct. Also, America derives most if its own energy not from nuclear reactors but from abundant hydroelectric resources. If the nuclear deal has been ill-conceived and fails in implementation at any stage, India will not import expensive nuclear reactors but can still learn much from the USA in developing hydroelectric power which constitutes India’s greatest energy potential as well.

 

China and Pakistan

Key strategic interests of India and the USA are fully convergent in East Asia, especially in respect of Communist China. But in West Asia, American attitudes and actions towards the Muslim world, specifically the invasion and occupation of Iraq and now a possible assault on Iran, have been deeply disconcerting for India which has some 120 million Muslim citizens.

It is not a coincidence that Pakistan, an overtly religious Muslim state, has had a marriage of convenience with Communist China, an overtly atheistic anti-religious state. Both have been militarist dictatorships that have seen democratic India as a strategic adversary, especially over territorial claims. It was Pakistan that facilitated President Nixon’s desired opening to Communist China and later permitted President Reagan’s attack on the soft underbelly of the USSR in the Afghan civil war (an attack in which China participated too). With the USSR’s collapse, the USA removed its main strategic adversary only to be left with two new adversaries: Islamic fundamentalism in the short run and China in the long run!

Indian diplomacy can credit a rare (indeed exceptional) success in having warned the USA from the early 1990s onwards of the dangers brewing in the jihadist camps in Pakistan sponsored by the ISI. The US Government has now declassified its assessments of those dangers and what it tried to do as early as 1995 and as late as 2000 through the Saudis with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar ~ who refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia and openly spoke of plans for revenge against American interests. With a continuing Cold-War mindset, US policy-makers thought state-actors like Saddam Hussein were a graver risk to Israel than non-state or  pan-state actors like Osama could be to the American mainland. Having distracted itself with Saddam, the US Government’s response to Osama has been far too much far too late ~ the maddened bull chasing the matador’s cape, in Stephen Holmes’s recent metaphor.

Pakistan’s consistent motivation was one of gaining advantage with the Americans in the hope of undermining India, and indeed the nexus created in Washington by Pakistan’s bureaucrats, politicians and military over decades has been the envy of all lobbyists. But Pakistan overplayed its hand, and once the 9/11 genie was let out of the bottle it could not be put back in again. Meanwhile, Pakistan allowing Gwadar port to become a haven for China’s Navy would have obvious new strategic repercussions.

American interests in West Asia are to protect Israel, to protect trade-routes and to defend against non-state or pan-state terrorism. American interests in East Asia are to protect Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from communist attack, to protect trade-routes and to defend against new terrorism arising from places like Indonesia or the  Philippines. All American interests in Asia would be facilitated by appearance of genuine multiparty democracy and free societies in China and Pakistan.

China as a two-party or multi-party democracy and a free society, even on the Taiwan-model, is unlikely to be an expansionist militarist aggressor in the way it has been as a dictatorship and unfree society. Communist China in the early 21st Century makes the same outrageous unlawful claims on Indian territory as it did half a century ago. Only the USA came to India’s assistance in a tangible way when Communist China attacked in Ladakh and Arunachal in the late months of 1962. John Kenneth Galbraith was President Kennedy’s Ambassador in New Delhi and his memoirs tell the tale of the landings of C-130 aircraft in Kolkata carrying infantry weapons, light artillery and quartermaster stores for the beleaguered Indian Army in Tezpur and Leh.

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Nehru, Krishna Menon and India’s whole political and diplomatic leadership revealed gross incompetence as did the Army’s top brass. Indian Communists virtually betrayed the country. The Chinese massed in the Chumbi Valley near Nathu La, and had they attacked all the way to Siliguri, India’s North East would have been cut off. As a demonstration, the Chinese in division strength took and held the whole of Arunachal for a month, withdrawing before there could be anyIndian attempt to retaliate or cut supply lines. The geography has not changed in fifty years. What can yet change is the ideology, away from the communism that has ruined China’s great people, to a new and bold commitment to liberal democracy and the Rule of Law.

As for Pakistan, its people under crude military rule have hardly allowed themselves to become the source of Muslim culture that Iqbal had dreamt of. Pakistan today is not a place even the most ardent pro-Pakistani person in Jammu & Kashmir can find very appealing or inspiring. If there was multiparty democracy and a free society in which the military had a normal small role of defence (as opposed to a large purportedly offensive role against India), Pakistan could calm down from its neuroses and become a normal country for the first time~ one in which the so-called “extremists” of today are transformed into a politically legitimate religious conservatism, who could seek to take power responsibly through the ballot box.

Neutrality

India should be a friendly neutral in the conflict between the West and Muslim world, doing whatever we can to bring better understanding between the two sides. Both have been invaders in Indian history, bringing both evil and good in their wake. India’s culture absorbed and assimilated their influences and became more resilient as a consequence. India also was a haven for Jews and Zoroastrians fleeing persecution. India as a country must condemn fanatical terrorist attacks on the West and bizarre reactionary attempts to return to a caliphate in the world of modern science. Equally, India must condemn vicious racist bombing and warfare unleashed by technologically advanced countries upon ancient societies and cultures struggling to enter the modern world in their own way.

As for the central issue of Israel in Palestine, Martin Buber (1878-1965), the eminent Zionist scholar and philosopher of Judaism, said to Rabindranath Tagore in 1926 that the Jewish purpose should be one of “pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, alliance with the peoples of the East, so as to erect with them together a great federative structure, which might learn and receive from the West whatever positive aims and means might be learnt and received from it, without, however, succumbing to the influence of its inner disarray and aimlessness.” If India could guide the region towards such a “great federative structure” of reason and tranquillity, while encouraging democracy in China and Pakistan, the aim of our “natural alliance” with the United States half way across the globe would have been fulfilled.

see also

https://independentindian.com/2006/01/31/diplomatic-wisdom/

https://independentindian.com/2006/10/09/new-foreign-policy-kiss-up-kick-down/
https://independentindian.com/2006/06/05/pakistans-allies/

https://independentindian.com/2011/10/13/my-seventy-one-notes-at-facebook-etc-on-kashmir-pakistan-and-of-course-india-listed-thanks-to-jd/

https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/

https://independentindian.com/2007/08/19/to-clarity-from-confusion-on-indo-us-nuclear-deal/

https://independentindian.com/2009/11/25/on-the-zenith-and-nadir-of-us-india-relations/

Iran, America, Iraq: Bush’s post-Saddam Saddamism — one flip-flop too many?

Iran, America, Iraq: Bush’s post-Saddam Saddamism — one flip-flop too many?

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, October 16 2007

All cultures generally, and Eastern cultures invariably, require utmost politeness towards an invited guest.The behaviour of the President of New York’s ColumbiaUniversity on 24 September was thus inexplicable when he gratuitously insulted his guest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, even before allowing him to deliver the speech he had been invited to give at the university.Iran’s President has become the new hate-figure of choice in the popular American media ever since 2005 when he was mistranslated as having said he wished Israel “wiped off the map”.He has chosen to contribute to his own predicament by seeming to associate with and encourage those known as “Holocaust-deniers” – people who stretch from those who deny any systematic mass-murder took place of Jews by Nazi Europe to those who want evidence for the number of six million such victims that has passed into school textbooks.

Attack plan

Modern Iran’s foreign policy should not have come to depend on the precise history of the atrocities against Jews by Christendom over the centuries. But that is what President Ahmadinejad has now, rather ineptly, made it depend on, jeopardising the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow-citizens from destruction caused by a massive and unlawful American, British, Israeli and possibly French attack. He has been quite needlessly provocative enough to allow himself to be painted by the American popular media, unscrupulous and unthinking as that can be, as some kind of Hitler-figure who plans some day to use nuclear bombs on Israel. Iran has been plaintively pleading in official circles that it wishes to use nuclear-power generated electricity at home while exporting its petroleum, that it has a right to do so as a member in good standing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it has neither wish nor capacity to develop nuclear bombs. But no matter the merits of its position with the IAEA, Iran has succeeded in isolating itself and seems to have almost no official allies on the world’s stage (though China, Russia, Royal Dutch Shell etc all have large investments there!).

The US has detailed contingency plans to attack Iran though no American official or military officer has admitted or stated that any such intention exists. The outlines are an open secret. There would be sudden massive bombing of Iran’s military and general infrastructure, including its assumed nuclear installations. US Marines would make seaborne assaults on Iranian islands to prevent Iran from mining or closing the Straits of Hormuz or from attacking American bases or interests in the Gulf. US Army forces based in Iraq would launch massive long-range artillery and rocket attacks preventing Iranian ground forces attempting to manoeuvre or approach them. There may be an amphibious Anglo-American attack from the Caspian Sea towards Tehran. “Special Forces” by way of spies, saboteurs and agents provocateur would have already been placed within Iran to help targeting and other war-aims.

One aim would be to permanently cripple Iran’s nuclear industry.A second aim would be “regime change” though without any attempt at a large-scale ground occupation of Iran which is recognised as impossible to achieve.The more extreme members of the Bush Administration led by Vice President Cheney aim to see Iran becoming a “failed state”, reversing whatever has taken place by way of nation-building, leaving an emasculated Iran, like an emasculated Iraq, that poses no threat to Israel for the next century and more.

The traditional Christian ethics of a just war are planned to be practically ignored by the United States, and there would not be any formal declaration of war. America’s people either have barely heard of Iran as a place on the map and will mostly continue with their usual lives, or have no idea of the intricacies of the US-Iran relationship in the last 80 years, or have no wish to support their Government machinery’s intent to go to war but have no control over its behaviour.

Three factors have held back an American attack though forces apparently can be made ready within days if not hours of a Presidential order. One has been top military officers, including Admiral Fallon, the head of US Central Command, who have said that Iran’s attempted retaliation on the ground could jeopardize 160,000 US troops now in more than a dozen bases spread across Iraq (besides Israel being threatened by Iran’s Hezbollah ally in Lebanon). A second factor has been the American Jewish community, who have apparently warned that a large bloody counterproductive war against Iran may have negative repercussions on their standing in American society. A third factor has been America’s foreign ministry which knows enough international law, politics and history to realise such aggression would be wholly unlawful, widely condemned by the world, and return the international system to the pre-1914 days of an imperialist free-for-all or destroy it altogether. The UN system would permanently end, and all methods and precedents of international cooperation, law and diplomacy would have been rendered irrelevant and deserving only to be flushed away and forgotten. The UN today seems to be led by an incompetent unknown who will produce even less of a squeak in protest than did his predecessor. Imperialism and Colonialism would return formally except in an age of advanced technology in which some nations have a right and ability to use nuclear weapons in pursuing dominance. The Geneva Conventions and even a medieval right like habeas corpus have already seen breaches; the Vienna Convention and other similar treaties and norms would all be effectively over.The international retrogression may be not merely back to 1914 or 1907 but to the tumult and savagery of Napoleon’s wars which ended with the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Political plan

War-planning aside, what is most interesting is that in recent months the USA has apparently gone back to developing, as an alternative, something like Saddam Hussein’s own strategy for containing Iranian influence! Iraq’s Anbar province sits on vast oil reserves which are not going to be pumped as that would lower the price of oil from its current high near $83 a barrel. It is a Sunni-majority area which has now made its Shias refugees, just as Shia-dominated areas of Baghdad have seen forced evictions of Sunnis. The Sunni tribal chiefs of Anbar are now having their loyalty purchased by the Americans just as Saddam had once done, especially by playing an anti-Iran card as Iran is a common enemy. At the same time, the Bush Administration is hard-pressed to try to persuade Iraq’s Shia majority to resist what might seem the inevitability of Iranian hegemony — which can only be done by reminding them of their Arab anti-Persian roots again just as Saddam had tried to do. Anglo-American policy once was to build up the Arabs against the Turks, then the Pehlavis against the Arabs, then Saddam against the Ayatollahs who had toppled the Pehlavis. Saddam himself was then toppled and killed and now post-Saddam Iraq is being built up against an Islamic Iran that may be struggling in its own way to enter the modern world. Perhaps the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been one flip-flop too many for the USA and UK to cope with over the last century.

Has America Lost? War Doctrines of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War

Has America Lost?
War Doctrines Of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, July 3 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

By Subroto Roy

Has the United States lost the war in Iraq? How would we tell if it has or not? If American commanding officers of general rank, once they go into retirement, say the Iraq war is lost or if the vast majority of the American people say it is not worth fighting, does that mean the USA has lost? When someone loses someone else wins ~ there are no “draws” or runners-up in war. If America has lost, does that mean Saddam won? How can a man who was hanged in sight of the whole world win a war from beyond his grave? It is all very strange in this most abominable of all wars.

Battle of Borodino

In the Battle of Borodino in 1812, the Russians under Marshall Mikhail Kutusov withdrew and the French held the field of battle at end of day ~ the single bloodiest day of warfare in modern times with between 66,500 and 125,000 casualties including several dozen generals. Though the French won, it signalled the end of French power and fall of Napoleon. Borodino was a Pyrrhic victory.

Marshall Kutusov, against his generals’ advice, and courting extreme unpopularity with St Petersburg, continued to withdraw after Borodino and declined to give battle to defend Moscow itself. His remaining forces and most of the civilian population withdrew beyond Moscow. The city was emptied and allowed to burn. The French took it without a fight, Napoleon entered and tried to feel himself its ruler, his generals tried to create a cooperative local government from among the remaining residents.

Kutusov waited, waited and waited some more without giving battle. Then one day, some months later, just as Kutusov had been praying, news came that Napoleon and the French had gotten up and left. Napoleon’s retreat was the biggest catastrophe his Grande Armée suffered, and they were harassed by Russian attacks all the way to the border.

Saddam was reported to have had two Russian generals advising his army, who quietly left before the Anglo-American attack occurred. Russian generals learn about Kutusov on mother’s knee. Even Stalin invoked Kutusov’s name when his 1939 pact with Hitler had failed and Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. (Iraq had both Nazi and Soviet influences: Stalin tried to appease Hitler in June 1941 by recognising the then pro-Nazi Government of Iraq.)

Saddam’s propaganda spokesmen in the early stages of the March 2003 invasion alluded to a Kutusov-like defensive doctrine: “the US and British administrations have depended on their strategy and planning based on the information obtained from the traitors, whom they call opposition, and from some intelligence services of some Arab countries…. They said: ‘Let some missiles be fired for the maximum of three days and then everything would be over.’ Therefore, we find them in a state of confusion. They prevent the media from having access to the facts about the military operations under security pretexts. They say that they are heading towards Baghdad and that they covered more than 160 or 180 km towards Baghdad. I would like to tell them, that in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300 km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time. However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh.” Iraq’s Army did a vanishing act, men and materials disappeared, Baghdad fell without fighting.

By contrast, the USA has followed textbook doctrines from Baron Clausewitz’s On War ~ a work influenced by Napoleon’s successful campaigns though Clausewitz himself fought at Borodino as part of Kutusov’s armies. Like Napoleon and now the Americans, Clausewitz was unable to reconcile his notion of war as aggression and destruction with his notion of war as a means of politics. Clausewitz’s “Absolute War” is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will…as each side in war tries to dominate the other, there arises a reciprocal action which must escalate to an extreme”. Hence “disarming or destruction of the enemy … or the threat of this…must always be the aim in warfare”. But Clausewitz’s “Real War” sees war as “a political act… an effective political instrument, a continuation of political commerce and a carrying out of this by other means”

What we may have been witnessing ever since the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq is the outcome of a clash between the doctrines of Clausewitz on the American side and Kutusov on the Iraqi/ Russian side.

American forces began with “Shock and Awe”, followed by disbanding Iraq’s Army and banning the Baathists. Then came “Light Footprint” or “War Tourism”, where American forces left their bases only for specific jaunts outside, while attempting to create a new “Iraqi” Army in an American image. Recently, the purported strategy has changed again to “Clear, Hold, Build” requiring the current infantry “surge” of 30,000 extra troops to try to pacify specific Baghdad neighbourhoods and then “build” political institutions.

Thirty years ago, Professor WB Gallie pointed to the contradiction Clausewitz had been unable to reconcile: “All commentators are agreed that Clausewitz’s greatest difficulty was to explain the relationship between (Absolute War and War as a Political Instrument)”, Philosophers of peace and war, Cambridge Univesity Press 1978. War-making as destruction and war-making as politics are incompatible. The cruelties of Iraq may explain and demonstrate the root of this contradiction most clearly: defeated, disarmed and destroyed victims of an Absolute War are hardly going to feel themselves agreeable to then being manipulated into any political institutions or agreements designed by the perpetrators of the violence. You cannot declare “Absolute War” on Fallujah, kill or arrest every able-bodied male citizen there, and then expect Fallujah’s women, children and old people to participate happily in town hall meetings you wish them to hold. “America has lost because it has not behaved like a great nation”, said one ordinary Iraqi initially in favour of Saddam’s overthrow. America’s retired generals are saying Iraq has been America’s greatest strategic defeat.

Resistance

The result of the clash between the two doctrines of war has been 30,000 American casualties (dead and wounded at about 1:8), while Iraqi dead exceed 650,000 with millions more wounded, rendered homeless or made refugees. Future historians may speak of a genocide having occurred in Iraq.

Did Saddam win if the Americans have lost? Of course not. Iraq had its Mir Jafars, and Saddam was at most a Shiraj, not even that given his odious past. Iraq now has its Tippus, Bhagat Singhs and Khudi Rams as well.

“The Resistance is the natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better. It is for humiliating people, and chaining them and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions which make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people.” Such was what an anonymous Resistance officer told the Australian journalist Michael Ware.

It seems impossible for one nation to govern another in the 21st Century. The cycle of imperialism followed by nationalism and socialism/ communism may merely restart. What Iraq needs urgently is for its Tilaks, Gokhales, Jinnahs, Gandhis, Jawaharlals and Vallabhais to arise, or it may be condemned to extinction and being consumed by its neighbours. As for the United States, its military may find a need to revise its war doctrines.

American Turmoil: A Vice-Presidential Coup — And Now a Grassroots CounterRevolution?

American Turmoil: A Vice-Presidential Coup – And Now a Grassroots CounterRevolution?

First published in

The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article June 18 2007

by

Subroto Roy

The Cold War was lost by Soviet and East European communism, and the laurelled victor was the USA along with its loyal allies. Russia and East Europe then transformed themselves. Once there had been Dubcek in the Prague Spring and Sakharov in his apartment. Then there was Lech Walesa the electrician, who, on 14 August 1980, climbed over a fence and led an 18-day strike from which arose the first independent trade union ~ Walesa said “the very basic things: he stood on the shipyard gate and called things by their real names”. Then came Gorbachov and Yeltsin. The despised Berlin Wall was smashed into small saleable bits in November 1989 and people just walked across. That was the end of communism. An unknown student stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square — though a dozen years earlier the death-watch of Chinese communism had begun with Wei Jingsheng’s “Democracy Wall”. Communist apparatchiks everywhere (except New Delhi and Kolkata) started to unlearn communism; communist societies and economies began to be placed on a road to health and taken off the road to misery.

Winner’s curse

What happened to the victors? Germany quietly unified. Italy’s politics stabilised a little. France achieved its wish of being undominated in Europe. Britain, already forlorn from loss of empire, was left trying to arbitrage between Europe and America (though there too there was new competition from the Irish Republic).

Some political learning, reconciliation and growth took place in Europe but there was none in America ~ the biggest victor of all, the one country but for whose efforts all of Europe might have become and remained communist. Instead, the USA chose to gorge itself on self-accolades, bloated, then started to choke on its own hubris.

The result is that as the 2008 Presidential election campaign gets underway, and the Second Iraq War is at its peak, America’s polity at its highest level may be in turmoil of a sort not seen since the student revolts at the peak of the Vietnam War.

Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were an interregnum after the Vietnam and Watergate traumas. It was during the Reagan “restoration” that communism collapsed and Osama bin Laden was befriended. Carter’s military mission to rescue American hostages in Iran notoriously failed; Reagan restored American pride by sending in the US Army’s crack Rangers to defeat an almost non-existent enemy ~ in Grenada. It was the first successful American military action in a long time. But there was also failure in Beirut where Reagan withdrew after 241 US soldiers were killed by a suicide-bomber.

George Bush Sr glided into the Presidency in Reagan’s wake. He felt sure of being re-elected when Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait gave him a war with which to seal his chances. For his part, Saddam had primly and properly called in the US Ambassador to Iraq, the top career diplomat April Glaspie, and told her he had accounts to settle with Kuwait over the Iran-Iraq war. Glaspie, under instructions of the Bush-Baker State Department, famously told him the USA had no opinion on inter-Arab conflicts. Saddam took this to be a green signal, or at least not a red signal, from America and went ahead with his attack on Kuwait.

The American President worked himself into an angry indignation ~ and soon there were large numbers of American troops in Saudi Arabia, soon Iraq was forced to retreat with thousands slaughtered in a turkey-shoot from the air, soon there would be severe sanctions and bombings by the USA and UK. Bush was sure he would be re-elected in 1992, and indeed he led all the polls ~ except an oddball surprise Ross Perot pulled away his votes, and caused the third man running, a young governor of a minor State, to push through to victory instead. Bill Clinton was as surprised as anyone that he was President of the USA in 1992. Dissimulation and mendacity reached new heights during his time yet he came to be re-elected in 1996.

Osama bin Laden started to rant against his former ally. Remove your troops from our holy land, he said. Clinton and Madelaine (“It’s worth it”) Albright continued to bomb Saddam instead ~ who after all had launched a few backward Scuds at Israel during the First Iraq War of 1991. Somehow or other, Osama and/or someone else then designed the destruction of Manhattan’s tallest buildings on September 11 2001; it remains unclear what projectile hit the Pentagon or exactly what happened over a field in Pennsylvania the same morning. The mass murder of thousands remains unsolved.

America, under Bush’s elder son, attacked Osama’s hosts in Afghanistan (but not so as to upset their common Pakistani friends too much), then turned their really motivated firepower against their old foe, Saddam Hussein. Iraq by the summer of 2003 was destroyed as a nation-state, and today in 2007 under American occupation has been almost wholly destroyed as a culture and a society. The new US Embassy in Baghdad is as large as the Vatican. Fourteen permanent American military bases have been built. The US Government has spoken of moving troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, and of being in Iraq for ever on the Korean pattern.

United States history and political culture had never seen a Vice President as being anything more than an invisible silent shadow of the President of the land. That has changed drastically. Indeed in recent months there has been much serious Washington talk of the incumbent Vice President having unlawfully usurped political power from the President himself. Cheney’s people throughout the Bush Administration have been in almost open battle against the official foreign and diplomatic policy of Condoleeza Rice and the professional military represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before the attack on Iraq they had overturned the CIA’s official intelligence assessments. There is a general perception that Cheney’s people have been far shrewder and more experienced of the Washington Beltway than Bush’s.

Attack on Iran?

Now the central issue has been whether to attack Iran, and if so how and when. Cheney’s people and their think-tank friends are determined America must do so, perhaps with a new Netanyahu Government in Israel early in 2008 or sooner. The President was apparently warned by his generals in December 2006 that such an attack would gravely endanger the supply lines of US troops who would face a Shia insurrection in Iraq; that may have been the sole reason no attack occurred, and also one reason for the present infantry “surge”. Three aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf indicate a potential strike, and that level of force has been coming and going from there for months.

The main Democratic Presidential candidates, especially Mrs Clinton, have said nuclear weapons are “not off the table” in reference to striking Iran without provocation. Nine out of ten of the Republican Presidential candidates agree. The exception is Ron Paul who has recognised the United States was not intended by its founders to be launching aggressive nuclear war against non-nuclear countries in the 21st Century. The Reagan-era economist Paul Craig Roberts has said such war will leave America more reviled than Hitler’s Third Reich.

A grassroots democratic counter-revolution could be starting to overturn the elitist coup d’etat that may have occurred in Washington. “People power” beat organised State power in many times and places. Can it win here? Or could there be tanks in Dupont Circle forty years after the tanks in Wenceslas Square?

Home Team Advantage

Home Team Advantage

On US-Iran talks and Sunni-Shia subtleties: Tehran must transcend its revolution and endorse the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, June 3 2007


By SUBROTO ROY

On Monday 28 May in Baghdad,the American and Iranian Governments held their first official face-to-face talks in some 26 or 27 years. This sheer fact is a good thing. For more than two years there has been incessant sabre-rattling and gunboat diplomacy by the USA against Iran, as well as provocative words and deeds by Iran’s President against America’s Israeli ally (though it is apparently false his words included saying he wished Israel “wiped off the map”). Palmerston said there are no permanent allies among nations. The last unofficial transactions had to do with the notorious “Iran-contra” affair which blighted Ronald Reagan’s second term as President. Iran was sold American weapons from Israel (yes, the same Iran and same Israel) for use against Iraq (the same Saddam’s Iraq which had been Rumsfeld’s friend and which apparently received American intelligence and logistics help against yes, the same Iran); the moneys the Americans received were then used to pay for anti-Sandinista “contra” forces in Nicaragua (so they could, for example, buy American weapons too). Apart from that unofficial and embarrassing “Iran-contra” affair, the American and Iranian Governments had not had face-to-face discussion since diplomatic relations broke in 1980 during the “hostage crisis”.

Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically.… Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” The title of his 1925 book America’s Task in Persia reflected the old paternalist attitude that an imperialist power must necessarily know better than local people what happens to be in their interest in the way a parent knows better than a child. Even that otherwise great libertarian JS Mill himself once suggested that contact with a “superior people” allowed rapid advancement. India’s “Lenin Peace Prize” winner and Soviet sympathiser KPS Menon Sr (grandfather of our present top diplomat) said the same after the 1979 invasion and occupation by the USSR of Afghanistan. Nationalists of all colours and times ~ from Tom Paine, Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) and George Washington to Bal Gangadhar Tilak (“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”), Ho Chi Minh and Ayatollah Khomeini ~ would disagree.

Indeed, in the Iranian case, the Khomeini Revolution was the antithesis of the imperialist doctrine. But Iranian revolutionaries then seized the American Embassy on 4 November 1979 and took 66 hostages. Thirteen women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. In a failed attempt to rescue the remaining 52, eight American military personnel died on 25 April 1980. The 52 hostages, including two women and one black, were released on 20 January 1981 under the “Algiers Accord”, a day before Reagan became President. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran had been a den of spies, as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and ended diplomatic relations.

Instead hostages were taken in deliberate violation of international law. The United States Government under duress on 19 January 1981 had to sign the “Algiers Accord”, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” That was the “blowback” from the coup d’etat against Iran’s democratic government under Mossadeq in 1953 which the CIA had engineered. Modern US-Iran relations have been about two wrongs ~ indeed multiple wrongs ~ not making a right.

From Algiers until the Baghdad meeting there was no official interaction between the USA and Iran (besides the Iran-contra affair and American relief supplies during an Iranian earthquake). The present US-Iran talks had to do with the catastrophic mess in Iraq, and were held via the current Al-Maliki Government of Iraq which is beholden to both as patrons.

Saddam’s Iraq had been officially secular not an “Islamic Republic”. But its Baathist national-socialism (with yes, a few silly Nazi aspects) had been populated mostly by Saddam’s fellow Sunnis, and there was some vicious anti-Shia persecution.
Doctrinally, the Sunni-Shia conflict may have originated during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. “In the words of al-Baghdadi, a Sunni is one who believes in the creation of the universe, the unity and pre-existence of its Maker, the apostolate of Muhammad, recognizes and observes the duties of the five prayers, fast of Ramazan, poor-rate and pilgrimage, and does not adulterate his faith with an abominable innovation which leads to heresy.” (Imtiaz Ahmad in Grewal ed. Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India, p.277). Shias claim that exegetical authorities, both Sunni and Shia, record the Prophet on 10 March 632 AD at the pool of Ghadir “while returning from his last pilgrimage to Mecca… delivered his farewell address” in which he declared Ali ibn Abi Talib his successor (S. Ali Nadeem Rezavi, ibid., p. 281). No logical contradiction between Sunnis and Shias seems obvious from this.

But there also have been racial and cultural aspects to the division. Arabs, though not Iraqi Arabs, are mostly Sunni while Iranians are mostly Shia. At the same time, Persian culture and history has had incorrigibly Zoroastrian roots just as Egypt was the land of the Pharoahs and Arabia of Meccan paganism. Mesopotamian culture has had Sumerian and Babylonian roots, and Indian Islam has grown among the cultures of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Intra-Muslim conflict will be reduced only when it becomes generally recognised that the House of Islam has had many mansions.

Saddam’s war against Khomeini’s Iran was not a religious war but one between two putative nation-states. In Iraqi junior schools during the war, a class of 40 pupils could be divided by academic merit such that the top 20 would play brave Iraqis in the school-play ~ the hapless bottom 20 had to play the wicked Persians, leaving them in tears as well as in simulated defeat.

What the current US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq has quite deliberately accomplished is the destruction of Iraq as a putative nation-state and the fanning of mostly suppressed Shia-Sunni differences instead. The idea of “regime-change” in Teheran in the old way of the CIA coup against Mossadeq also has not been far from Anglo-American thinking in the current confrontation with Iran. “Who lost Iran?” was an American political slogan in the 1980s, and there are day-dreamers in Washington think-tanks today who have fantasies of Iran being run by compliant “Iranian-American” émigrés from Los Angeles. But instead the destruction of Saddam’s regime inevitably has led to Iran’s strengthening, as all Iraqi Shia forces made dominant as a result are, at least from a doctrinal standpoint within Islam, united with Tehran to greater or lesser degree. A new Iraq-Iran war is hard to imagine as along as Shias dominate Baghdad’s Government. Iran for its part needs to demonstrate that it has transcended its revolution and that it unequivocally endorses the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions.

The British and Americans are great lovers of sports and inventors of many modern games played on fields around the world, from cricket and soccer to basketball. Their Governments seem to have forgotten in their foreign policy theorising that there is such a thing as “home-team advantage”. Imperialists ultimately can never defeat nationalists, because, at the end of the day, imperialists have to either go home or (as Conrad and Coppola knew) “go native”. In the new Iran-USA talks, both sides may have sensed Iran has the home-team advantage. The most the United States can do to Iran is bomb it and leave.


On the US Presidential Elections 2008

US election ’08:

America’s Presidential Campaign Seems Destined To Be Focussed On Iraq

By Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman,

Editorial Page, Special Article, June 1 2007

Like baseball and American football, it is not easy to comprehend modern American politics from the outside world. The very idea that most American voters are either “Democrat” or “Republican” throughout or over much of their lives is itself a little odd. In an ordinary social or job-environment, a single Republican in a group of Democrats will feel uncomfortable as will a single Democrat in a group of Republicans.

Typically, each is in favour of some and against other specific “issues”, or, more accurately, specific political slogans. A Republican may be typically in favour of “free enterprise”, “limited government”, “a strong military”, and “family values”. A Democrat may be typically in favour of a woman’s “right to choose” (whether or not to abort a foetus), “gun control”, “universal health care” and tolerance of diversity. Republicans typically charge Democrats with being tax-raisers, profligate spenders of public money, soft on defence and crime, promoters of homosexual rights and generally daffy-headed hippies. Democrats typically charge Republicans with being stooges of the rich, oppressors of middle and working classes, proto-fascists and jingoists, and lunatic religious fundamentalists.

The mood is vicious, and in small social gatherings (even between husband and wife) tempers flare and can only subside by reference to some other neutral subject such as sports or by making a joke. Comedy is a major forum of political discussion and means of tension-release.

Greasy pole of power

A typical politician may rise from being an elected local official to running for the State legislature and thence running to be State Governor or a US Senator from the State, and thence either make a bid for the White House perhaps or fade away as a senior statesman. George W Bush was Governor of Texas, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Ronald Reagan of California, Jimmy Carter of Georgia. George Bush Sr became Reagan’s Vice President after being a Texas legislator, head of the CIA and UN Ambassador. Gerald Ford went from House Speaker to Vice President and then President due to collapse of the Nixon Presidency. Richard Nixon himself was Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President and before that an abrasive Senator from California. Eisenhower was not a politician but a retired soldier, the war-hero who led the Allies to victory, and became perhaps the most popular and competent of all modern US Presidents.

In a nutshell, American politics is about the reputations of individuals acquired along the way, which then their friends and allied interest groups seek to publicly enhance and their enemies seek to publicly destroy as they try to climb the greasy pole of political power. The media, especially television in the last fifty years, becomes pivotal, as each side tries to ferret out and expose publicly any dirty deeds of the other, or failing that, at least create a monstrous image based on a voting record in the public domain.

As the 2008 Presidential Election approaches, both major parties will witness ruthless slug-fests as candidates for the party’s nomination battle one another to see who is the last man/ woman standing. That person then gets to choose a Vice Presidential candidate, and the two form the “ticket” which will fight the other party’s ticket. This inter-party contest for the White House (and hence some 4,000 executive jobs in Washington DC for four years) has been compared by astute American observers to a nationwide popularity contest. It is certainly not the most reliable method in the 21st Century by which to find the wisest government of the world’s strongest (and perhaps most aggressive) military power.

The Iraq war has come to wholly dominate America’s current political debate. The number of American soldiers dead in Iraq is now well over 3,400 and climbing quickly; the number seriously wounded by roadside bombs etc is in the tens of thousands.

Among the Democrats, the perpetually ambitious Mrs Hilary Clinton is hard-pressed to explain how she, as Senator from New York State and someone with experience of her husband’s Presidency, backed his Republican successor’s jingoism and chose to be blind to all the official mendacity. She is unable to explain herself. Her rivals include Senator Barack Obama ~ the son of a black Kenyan graduate student in Hawaii and a white woman from Kansas, which, in American terms, brands him as black. He is a Harvard-trained lawyer married to a Harvard-trained lawyer, and though there is glamour and excitement in his candidacy as a young freshman Senator who voted against the Iraq war, it is inevitable many whites will see him as being a black man while at least some blacks will see him as being not black enough in not having been seared by the history of black people in America. His enemies have been already delighted to suggest he is Muslim with a middle name “Hussein” and that Obama rhymes with Osama. Such prejudices may be too much to overcome. The Democrats also include John Edwards of South Carolina, who was John Kerry’s running-mate in 2004, and who presently gains from being neither female nor black. It is not impossible once these and others like Governor Bill Richardson and Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have bruised one another sufficiently, a heavyweight old candidate joins the Democratic race like Al Gore (who likely had beaten Bush in 2000). But Gore is now facing a personal obesity problem.
The leading Republican contenders are trying to outdo each other on harshness towards alleged terrorists trying to attack America (something which can simply mask racial and religious prejudices and sadism). Arizona Senator John McCain’s claim to fame is that he many years ago was a POW who suffered under the North Vietnamese. He was once seen as a reasonable politician but his outright support for Bush’s aggressiveness abroad goes against the 70% of voters who today think Bush has been dead wrong. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made his name by apparent efficiency and compassion during the 9/11 attacks. He now seems to see his task as one of outdoing McCain’s jingoism. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has positioned himself to seem the most “standard” candidate around; but he is a member of the Christian sect known as the Mormons, prejudice against whom remains deep in the country and Romney may eventually face the same uphill task as Obama.

New shoots of life

Surprise factors have been upstart anti-War candidates. Mike Gravel, a principled former Senator from Alaska, forced his fellow-Democrats to face up to their hypocrisy over Iraq and war in general. But Gravel is the longest of long shots, and lacks the power of any of the Democratic special interest groups on his side. Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul is the dark horse in the entire field at the moment. He is staunchly libertarian or “classical liberal” on principle, believes in a wholly non-interventionist American foreign policy, consistently voted against the Iraq war and has never voted in favour of raising taxes. He is the runaway favourite of the Internet where America’s real political discussion is increasingly taking place, and his grassroots support among both Republicans and Democrats opposed to the Iraq war is swelling fast. An obstetric surgeon by profession, Paul, at age 71, has been and remains married only once (an American rarity), and may well appeal to all sides of the political and economic spectra although his technical monetary economics is weak. What his emergence does show is how American democracy is yet able to spring healthy shoots of new life from within a decaying morass.

Correction : In my previous article “On Indian Nationhood”, it was said Independence came “forty years” after Montagu-Chelmsford when it was thirty years. The error is regretted. I had meant the Morley-Minto period of 1906-1908.

American Democracy

AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

Does America need a Prime Minister and a longer-lived Legislature?

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman

Editorial Page Special Article Nov 5 2006

The politics of the United States in the last few decades has become so opaque, it is hard to see what goes on, beyond the banal superficialities. Competitive commercial television, an American institutional invention, is hardly the most suitable keeper of any nation’s historical and political heritage, nor a source of accurate collective political memory, and without political memory it is not possible to understand the present or anticipate the future. Yet most modern Americans are compelled by circumstances to comprehend the national or state-level politics of their enormous variegated land of 300 million people only through the very coarse filter provided by commercial television.

Television obviously demands passivity, dissipating a viewer’s ability to reason about or reflect on any information being offered. A newspaper report “Plane crash kills 120” in a front-page column, causes the information to be absorbed in context along with the rest of the day’s news. If the radio says “An aeroplane crashed today, and all 120 passengers aboard are feared dead”, the same event is felt through the invisible newsreader’s voice, the listener being left to imagine the awfulness of what happened. But for TV to report the same event requires pompous self-conscious studio-anchors, helicopters at the scene, interviews with weeping relatives, and instant analyses of the crash’s causes, all under a banner of “Breaking News”. The average viewer is left not so much sympathising with the victims as feeling enervated and anxious about air-travel and the world in general — besides being left ignorant of the rest of the day’s happenings.

In reaching mass-audiences with advertisements of commercial products, TV quickly obtained the general surrender of radio in American homes, though radio still controls what modern Americans hear in the time they spend in their automobiles (and they spend a larger fraction there than any other people). Newspapers signalled their abject surrender to TV by “dumbing down” their front-pages with large photographs as pathetic reminders of yesterday’s TV events, or headlines that sound racy, sensational, glamorous or with-it. Given the transient nature of all news and expense of printing it on newsprint, actually reading newspapers (as opposed to looking at advertising supplements) has become in the age of TV a minor middle class indulgence, although the editorial pages of a handful of “national” newspapers remains the last refuge of serious political discussion in the USA and elsewhere.

American politics filtered through commercial television has caused all issues and politicians, whether national, state and/or local, to tend to become like products and brands available to be bought and sold at the right price. Yet American television also produced a serious reaction to its own banalities by starting in the early 1980s news-reporting and analysis on “Public Television” and also on “C-Span”. “Public Television” (as opposed to commercial or cable networks) produced what came to be known as the “MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour”, which set the benchmark for all political news and commentary in the USA and indeed across the globe to this day. C-Span took the unusual step of sending television cameras to silently record all political events, especially the seemingly least significant and most tedious of legislative committee meetings or political speeches, and then broadcasting these endlessly 24 hours a day along with very dry political analysis and comment. Both provided a little (“highbrow”) sobriety to the otherwise drunken political culture created by American commercial television. Along with a small number of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, MacNeill-Lehrer and C-Span and the odd Sunday morning news-show on commercial TV, gave America’s politically conscious classes their access to information and analysis about their own country and what was being done in its name in the wider world. At least that was so until the 2003 attack on Iraq — during which acceptance of the US military procedure of “embedded reporters” ruined America’s traditions of a free press. Since 2003, growth of political coverage on the Internet especially via “blogging” has caused more candour to penetrate American politics and to explode the dissimulations of the “mainstream media”.

Besides politics via television, the other main factor affecting the attention-deficit disorder, short time-horizon and lack of perspective and depth afflicting modern American discourse, has been the rigid time-table of a Constitution written for a long gone era. Every even-numbered year is an election year in America, and that election is held in the first week of November. Hence on 7 November 2006 America will go to the polls, as it did in November 2004 and as it will again in November 2008. Each requires the entire lower legislative house to be newly elected.

Now two years may have been a long time in the late 18th Century when the US Constitution was written, and transport and communications between the Capitol and the new States was hazardous or time-consuming. But in modern times two years are over in the blink of an eyelid. Members of the American House of Representatives must then spend their time either talking about public money and how to spend it (as only they are authorized to do), or private money and how to earn it in order to stay elected and be able to talk about how to spend the public money. Inevitably, these two activities get confused with each other. The two year term of the American lower house may well be the shortest anywhere in the world, and may deserve to be doubled at least.

The upper house elects two senior politicians from each of the 50 States (regardless of its size or importance) for a 6 year term each, with one-third of the house returning to face the electorate at each of the biennial national elections. These 100 Senators at any given time have often constituted a fine deliberative body, and, along with the executive governors of the larger States, the pool from which America’s presidents and vice-presidents get to be chosen. Yet the Senate has also often enough palpably failed in its “advice and consent” role vis-à-vis the American President — whether in the matter of America never becoming a member of the League of Nations because of Senate isolationism despite Woodrow Wilson having invented it (something the British and French found so bewildering and frustrating), or the modern Senate caving in to the jingoism unleashed by the father-son Bush Presidencies only to then say “Oops, we’ve made a mistake”.

Another fundamental institutional problem at the root of modern American politics today is the lack of separation between the Head of State and Head of Government. This not merely causes people with the wrong ambitions and abilities to want to become President (because they lust in juvenile fashion to fire cruise missiles or fly onto aircraft carriers), it also causes the business of serious governance to frequently stop getting done because of endless paralysis between the President and Legislature. Churchill perspicaciously observed: “The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than… by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.” There is an argument to be made for the American President to become more of a constitutional figurehead representing the thoughtful will of the Union and all the 50 States, while an American Prime Minister comes to be elected by the Legislature as a more subdued, sober and competent Head of Government. It would be a healthy development for America’s domestic and international politics, and hence better for the rest of the world as well.

On a Liberal Party for India

NON-EXISTENT LIBERALS

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman October 22 2006, Editorial Page Special Article


Communists, socialists and fascists exist in the Left, Congress and BJP-RSS ~ but there is a conservative/”classical liberal” party missing in Indian democracy today

We in India have sorely needed for many years a serious “classical liberal” or “conservative” political party. Major democratic countries used to have such parties which paid lip-service at least to “classical liberal” principles. But the 2003 attack on Iraq caused Bush/McCain-Republicans to merge with Hilary-Democrats, and Blair-Labour with Tory neocons, all united in a cause of collective mendacity, self-delusion and jingoism over the so-called “war on terror”. The “classical liberal” or “libertarian” elements among the Republicans and Tories find themselves isolated today, just as do pacifist communitarian elements among the Democrats and Labour. There are no obvious international models that a new Indian Liberal Party could look at ~ any models that exist would be very hard to find, perhaps in New Zealand or somewhere in Canada or North Eastern Europe like Estonia. There have been notable individual Indian Liberals though whom it may be still possible to look to for some insight: Gokhale, Sapru, Rajagopalachari and Masani among politicians, Shenoy among economists, as well as many jurists in years and decades gone by.

What domestic political principles would a “classical liberal” or conservative party believe in and want to implement in India today? First of all, the “Rule of Law” and an “Efficient Judiciary”. Secondly, “Family Values” and “Freedom of Religious Belief”. Thirdly, “Limited Government” and a “Responsible Citizenry”. Fourthly, “Sound Money” and “Free Competitive Markets”. Fifthly, “Compassion” and a “Safety Net”. Sixthly, “Education and Health for All”. Seventhly, “Science, not Superstition”. There may be many more items but this in itself would be quite a full agenda for a new Liberal Party to define for India’s electorate of more than a half billion voters, and then win enough of a Parliamentary majority to govern with at the Union-level, besides our more than two dozen States.

The practical policies entailed by these sorts of political slogans would involve first and foremost cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country, namely, the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation. Secondly, improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from having been gravely sick for decades, there are functioning institutions for their proper future management. Thirdly, resolving J&K in the most lawful and just manner as well as military problems with Pakistan in as practical and efficacious a way as possible today. This is necessary if military budgets are ever going to be drawn down to peacetime levels from levels they have been at ever since the Second World War. How to resolve J&K justly and lawfully has been described in these pages before (The Statesman, “Solving Kashmir” 1-3 December 2005, “Law, Justice and J&K”, 2-3 July 2006).

Cleaning up public budgets and accounts would pari passu stop corruption in its tracks, as well as release resources for valuable public goods and services. A beginning may be made by, for example, tripling the resources every year for three years that are allocated to the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health, subject to tight systems of performance-audit. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are necessary throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services.

This means inter alia that our often dysfunctional Parliament and State Legislatures have to be inspired by political statesmen (if any such may be found to be encouraged or engendered) to do at least a little of what they have been supposed to be doing. If the Legislative Branch and the Executive it elects are to lead this country, performance-audit will have to begin with them.

The result of healthy public budgets and accounts, and an economy with functioning public goods and services, would be a macroeconomic condition for the paper-rupee to once more become a money that is as good as gold, namely, a convertible world currency again after having suffered sixty years of abuse via endless deficit finance at the hands of first the British and then numerous Governments of free India that have followed.

It may be noticed the domestic aspects of such an agenda oppose almost everything the present Sonia-Manmohan Congress and Jyoti Basu “Left” stand for — whose “politically correct” thoughts and deeds have ruined India’s money and public budgets, bloated India’s Government especially the bureaucracy and the military, starved the Judiciary and damaged the Rule of Law, and gone about overturning Family Values. While there has been endless talk from them about being “pro-poor”, the actual results of their politicization of India’s economy are available to be seen with the naked eye everywhere.

One hundred years from now if our souls returned to visit the areas known today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, we may well find 500+ million inhabitants still below the same poverty-line despite all the gaseous prime ministerial or governmental rhetoric today and projections about alleged growth-rates.

If the Congress and “Left” must oppose any real “classical liberal” or conservative agenda, we may ask if the BJP-RSS could be conceivably for it. The answer is clearly not. The BJP-RSS may pontificate much about being patriotic to the motherland and about past real or imagined glories of Indian culture and religion, but that hardly ever has translated concretely into anything besides anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric, or breeding superstitions like astrology even at supposedly top technological institutes in the country. (Why all astrology is humbug, and a pre-Copernican Western import at that, is because all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around the Earth in a geocentric solar system; the modern West’s scientific outlook arose only after astrology had declined there thanks to Copernicus and Galileo establishing the solar system as heliocentric.)

As for a “classical liberal” economic agenda, the BJP in Government transpired to be as bad if not worse than their adversaries in fiscal and monetary profligacy, except they flattered and were flattered by the organised capital of the big business lobbies whereas their adversaries flatter and are flattered by the organised power of the big labour unions (covering a tiny privileged class among India’s massive workforce). Neither has had the slightest interest in the anonymous powerless individual Indian citizen or household. The BJP in Opposition, instead of seeking to train and educate a new modern principled conservative leadership, appear to wish to regress even further back towards their very own brand of coarse fascism. “Family Values” are why Indian school-children have become the envy of the world in their keen discipline and anxiety to learn – yet even there the BJP had nothing to say on Sonia Gandhi’s pet bill on women’s property rights, whose inevitable result will be further conflict between daughters and daughters-in-law of normal Indian families.

At the root of the malaise of our political parties may be the fact we have never had any kind of grassroots “orange” revolution. There has been also an underlying national anxiety of disintegration and disorder from which the idea of a “strong Centre” follows, which has effectively meant a Delhi bloated with power and swimming in self-delusion. The BJP and Left are prisoners of their geriatric leaderships and rather unpleasant ideologies and interest-groups, while the Congress has failed to invent or adopt any ideology besides sycophancy. Let it be remembered Sonia Gandhi had been genuinely disdainful of the idea of leading that party at Rajiv’s death; today she has allowed herself to become its necessary glue. The most salubrious thing she could do for the party (and hence for India) is to do a Michael Howard: namely, preside over a genuine leadership contest between a half-dozen ambitious people, and then withdraw with her family permanently from India’s politics, focusing instead on the legacy of her late husband. Without that happening, the Congress cannot be made a healthy political entity, and hence the other parties have no role-model to imitate. Meanwhile, a liberal political party, which necessarily would be non-geriatric and non-sycophantic, is still missing in India.

New Foreign Policy? (8-9 Oct 2006)

NEW FOREIGN POLICY? “Kiss Up, Kick Down”?

Seven phases of Indian foreign policy may be identifiable since Nehru; the current phase seems to involve subservience to the strong, jingoism otherwise

 

by Subroto Roy

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman 8 Oct 2006, The Statesman 9 Oct 2006 Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

The outlines of a new tri-partisan Indian foreign policy may be becoming discernible. That it is “new” or that it commands near unanimity among the Congress, BJP and “Left” and their respective friends in the Indian media and political classes, does not make it sound or robust in any way. In fact, its basis in the history, geography and economics of India is wholly inadequate, and it is also entirely divorced from any clearly enunciated new Indian political ethics for the modern world.

 

 

The new policy, which may be fairly dubbed the Jaswant-Manmohan policy after the BJP and Congress politicians who have been its putative authors and leading practitioners, is as likely as not to lead to an India that is no longer a free decision-maker in any meaningful way in world affairs by 2047, one hundred years after Independence. Our great grandchildren may well be taught that for some decades in Indian history a sovereign unitary republic actually existed which then came to be effectively lost.

 

 

Indeed the new policy may amount to being less a coherent new doctrine of India’s role in international relations than a mere change in attitude on the part of politicians, bureaucrats and their intelligentsia friends: from seeming universally arrogant in the world to becoming pliant and subservient towards those world powers perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as strong, combined with a vainglorious jingoism towards all others. It is an application to international diplomacy and politics of the classic bureaucratic principle of “kiss up, kick down” in an organisation, and may reflect the fact the two main institutions the Mughals and British used to run their empires were the bureaucracy and military ~ both of which have grown and continued to run New Delhi (and Islamabad) afterwards, co-opting whatever domestic political development that has arisen. There is plenty of wishful waffling too about India becoming a “great power” or being a “swing state in the global balance of power”, and about how well the economy is supposedly doing ~ as if what Government spokesmen say about the economy is to be believed at face-value. Indian Leftists and their fellow-travellers ~ as great lovers themselves of bureaucracy, collectivist groupthink and propaganda on the USSR or PRC pattern, and fearful or envious of all individual criticism, creativity and achievement – have taken to the same principle like fish to water.

 

 

The first phase of Indian foreign policy was Nehruvian in that it began with Nehru’s Fabian misperception of Stalin’s USSR, and ended with the military debacle he led the country into at the hands of Zhou’s “human wave” armies in the mountains of Ladakh and NEFA.

 

 

A second phase was Kashmir-centric, overlapping with the first insofar as it may be traced to Karan Singh’s iniquitous dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s first Government, but really beginning after Nehru’s death with the Ayub-Abdullah summit, and being marked by Ayub’s 1965 attack in J&K ~ Shastri’s riposte reaching the Ichogil Canal signalled that no longer would war over J&K be confined to J&K.

 

 

A third phase was forced on India by the Pakistani civil war that led to Bangladesh’s creation, and was marked by the Indira/ Haksar alliance with Brezhnev’s USSR, as well as by Pokhran-I.

 

 

A fourth phase of Indian foreign policy may be identified in the late 1970s and 1980s, marked by rebellion of the fundamentalist Sikhs whom Indira and Sanjay Gandhi had provoked, which led in due course to her assassination. The turmoil that followed in Punjab and North India was financed by anti-Indian Sikhs from Vancouver,California and Britain, with gleeful help from the Pakistanis, and Indian diplomats had their hands full in trying to counter that phenomenon. It was during this phase of domestic Indian turmoil that New Delhi wholly missed the seismic changes occurring in the USSR, East Europe and international relations generally, and completely failed to predict its consequences for India.

 

 

The phase came to end when the Narasimha Rao Government (upon advice of a well-known communist cabal in the IFS and JNU) instantly showered praise on the anti-Yeltsin coup in August 1991. When Yeltsin returned to power, the new anti-communist Russians took their revenge on New Delhi, exacting hard dollars for the soft rouble-trade of friendlier times.

 

 

A fifth phase may be seen in retrospect as one of relative success.The main plank of Indian foreign policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to get Pakistan designated a “terrorist state” in American eyes, as well as to warn of the dangers of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. It had been prompted by the end of American involvement in the Afghan war, which caused the ISI to shift the jihadis to J&K, and the Indian policy was destined not to succeed. No matter how hard Kanwal Sibal tried in 1992-1993 as Minister-Political in the Washington Embassy to tell the Americans that their Pakistani friends were dangerous, he was destined to fail as the MEA had entirely failed to realise how far ahead the Pakistanis were in their lobbying power in Washington ~ the Pakistani super-elite has been entrenched among the K-Street lobbyists and in expensive real-estate along the Potomac River for more than two generations. Yet after the 9/11 attacks several years later, the Indians were able to look back at that fifth phase and say to the Americans, “We told you so”.

 

 

In the late 1990s came a short-lived sixth phase of Pokhran-II and the Lahore bus-trip, which may be credited as Vajpayee successes, and also contained the Kargil War and Kandahar hijacking, which were more dubious. This overlapped with the last and currently continuing seventh phase of Indian foreign policy with Jaswant Singh breaking the ice with the Americans when they had recovered from the fact the CIA’s failures included not foreseeing Pokhran-II; it coincided too with Osama bin Laden’s declarations of jihad against the USA. The Americans enlisting themselves on the side of the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban after 9/11 was beneficial from an Indian standpoint since Afghanistan had been effectively lost to secular Indian influence for two decades, and the Taliban had shown themselves no friends of India during the Kandahar hijacking.

 

 

But the BJP’s anti-Muslim thought processes quickly took over, as did its proximity to organised business lobbies. When Iraq was attacked and occupied in 2003, there was hardly a whimper from the BJP leadership, and instead their businessmen friends started to fly to Amman hopeful of “reconstruction” contracts. The Sonia/ Manmohan Congress/Leftist combine has effectively continued and expanded that trend, though now the business lobbies have been much more muted and subtle, especially in their backroom dealings and payoffs with respect to the nuclear deal. There is also an occasional burst of anti-Americanism from leftists though it is hard of course to beg for American foreign investment in Marxist-run areas while also being sincere in quaint street demos or agitprop.

 

 

Running through the new foreign policy is a fiction that it is driven by a new economic motivation to improve development and mass well-being in India. The bizarre idea of creating hundreds of so-called “Special Economic Zones” (reminiscent of 17th and 18th Century colonial fortifications) illustrates this. India’s ordinary anonymous masses ~ certainly the 850 million people entirely outside the organised sector ~ have little or nothing to do with any of this. Benefits will accrue only to the ten million Indian nomenclatura controlling or having access to the gaping exit holes to the outside world in the new semi-closed economy with its endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of an inconvertible domestic currency.

 

 

It is as fallacious to think private investment from foreign or domestic businessmen will support public “infrastructure” creation as it is to think foreign exchange reserves are like tax revenues in being available for Government expenditure on “infrastructure”. Such fallacies are intellectual products of either those who know no economics at all or those who have forgotten whatever little they might have been once mistaught in their youth. What serious economics does say is that Government should generally have nothing to do with any kind of private business, and instead should focus on properly providing public goods and services, encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and see to it all firms pay taxes they are due to pay.

 

 

That is it. It is as bad for Government to be pampering organised foreign or domestic business or organised labour with innumerable subsidies, as has been happening in India for decades, as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention.

 

 

An economics-based policy would have single-mindedly sought to improve the financial condition of every governmental entity in the country, with the aim of improving the provision of public goods and services to all 1,000 million Indians. If and when budgets of all governmental entities become sound, foreign creditors would automatically line up before them with loans to sell, and ambitious development goals can be accomplished. As long as public budgets (and public accounts) remain in an outrageous shambles, nothing can be in fact achieved and only propaganda, corruption and paper-money creation results instead. Whatever economic growth does occur is due to new enterprise and normal technological progress, and is mostly despite and not because of New Delhi’s bureaucrats (see “The Dream Team: A Critique”, The Statesman 6-8 January 2006).

 

 

The first aspect of the new Indian foreign policy has been for Government to become wholly ingratiating towards any and all “First World” members visiting India who may deign to consider any kind of collaboration whatsoever. The long line of foreign businessmen and heads of government having photo-ops with the Indian PM began with Vajpayee and has continued with Manmohan, especially when there is a large weapons’ or commercial aircraft or other purchase to be signed. The flip-side has been ministerial and especially Prime Ministerial trips abroad ~ from Vajpayee’s to a Singapore golf-cart immediately after commiserating Gujarat, to Manmohan receiving foreign honorary doctorates while still holding public office.

 

 

Subservience to foreign business interests in the name of economic policy extends very easily to Indian naval, military or diplomatic assets being used to provide policing or support services for the great powers as and when they may ask for it. Hence, Indian naval forces may be asked by the Americans to help fight pirates in the Indian Ocean, or escort this vessel or that, or India may be asked to provide refuelling or base facilities, or India may be requested to vote against Iran, Venezuela or whomever here or there. But there would be absolutely no question of India’s role in international politics being anything greater than that of a subaltern or comprador whose response must be an instant “Ji, Huzoor”. The official backing of the Tharoor candidacy was as futile and ridiculous as the quest for UN veto-power or the willingness to attend G-8 summits as an observer.

 

 

While subservience towards the First World’s business and military interests is the “kiss up” aspect of the new foreign policy, an aggressive jingoism towards others is the “kick down” aspect. One influential voice among the media friends of the new foreign policy states it as follows: “The search for `equity oil’ has been the single most important new element of Indian economic diplomacy in recent years… Equity oil raises India’s stakes in the stability of regimes or even individuals who preside over these resources… the big question is how far would India go in defence of `regime stability’ elsewhere? And if it’s assets fall into hostile hands, would India be prepared to consider promoting `regime change’?” Just as surely as a pacifist Fabian socialist Nehru misperceived Stalin’s USSR, New Delhi’s new capitalistic jingoists have misperceived the Cheney-Rumsfeld grab for “equity oil” and have even defined Bush-Blair adventurism as being “the side of the angels”. How they must love to want to project Indian military force ~ paratroopers in the Maldives perhaps, though they need to recall what happened with the LTTE too!

 

 

Multiple Jallianwalla Bagh massacres may have been occurring in front of us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Balochistan, and there may soon be an attack on Iran too. New Delhi’s new “kiss up, kick down” attitude has rendered India’s once-dignified and sober voice silent, our eyes closed or our face turned away.

 

 

The obvious alternative to bureaucratic “kiss up, kick down” would be “kick up, kiss down” loved by all individualists and anti-bureaucrats. In other words, it would be for India to take each case and circumstance in international politics on its merits; be seen to stand up seriously to the powerful in world politics wherever and whenever necessary; seek to protect those who may be vulnerable to international or other brutality in world affairs, while getting on properly with the mundane business of ordinary government and commerce at all other times. That mundane business may call for a gradual withdrawal of India from all or most of the fancy, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva etc, focussing calmly but determinedly instead on improved administration and governance at home. Such was what Rajiv Gandhi was advised in January 1991 (see “Memos to Rajiv,” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991; Freedom First October 2001), when for one futile moment he even formed a peaceful bridge between the Americans and Saddam during the first Gulf War. The New Delhi establishment may be too intoxicated with power and insecure intellectually to be able to reflect on such sober alternatives.

Racism New and Old

Racism New and Old

Subroto Roy

Editorial page, The Statesman September 8 2006

When Iraqi Sunni terrorists killed 11 Pakistani and three Indian Shia pilgrims on the same bus to Karbala the other day, they did not check passports or wait to hear discourses from their victims about the validity of Jinnah’s Two-Nations Theory or the RSS’s views on Akhand Bharat and Bharat-Mata. All Indians and Pakistanis of whatever religion are pretty much “Hindis” to the average Arab. If Pakistanis (much to their own chagrin) are indistinguishable from Indians in many Arab eyes, Hindus and Sikhs are (much to their own chagrin) indistinguishable from Muslims in many North American and British eyes. Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Religion Writer (and whose own splendid ethnicity may appear obvious to us from his name), reports Paul Silverstein, an American anthropologist, saying “Muslims are the new Jews… They are the object of a series of stereotypes, caricatures and fears which are not based in a reality and are independent of a person’s experience with Muslims.” Kuruvila says: “The Muslim caricature has ensnared Hindus, Mexicans and others” across the USA “with violence, suspicion and slurs”, giving new form to America’s “age-old dance around racial identity”.

Assimilation

The subcontinent’s Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others are from pretty much similar racial populations, so when we wish to distinguish ourselves from one another as we tend to do on the subcontinent, we wear turbans, beards, long hair, veils, bindis etc ~ symbols about which the average New Jersey “dot-buster” or British “Paki-basher” cares not a hoot. London last year even saw Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian electrician on his way to work in the morning, pinned down by an elite squad of Britain’s much-vaunted policemen and receive seven bullets point-blank in the back of his skull ~ merely for having “looked Asian”.

Subcontinental immigrant families in the West experience a defining moment when the wife first bobs her long hair and takes to wearing slacks, skirts or even shorts, just so she can leave home and assimilate better in the workplace or shopping mall. The saris, salwars and real jewellery are kept for the weekends when she meets people who will understand her as herself, namely, her friends and kith and kin in the immigrant community. When salwar or sari-clad women start fake-kissing one another in Western-style greeting at those weekends, the alternation of their identities (and confusion in their self-knowledge) may have become complete. A limiting point of such attempts at assimilation is reached perhaps when an Asian woman becomes a BBC or CNN newsreader, reading what she has been told to yet still narcissistically indulging in the extent of her external transformation.

Muslim-Hindu differences of religious and cultural beliefs and practices between racially similar peoples may be contrasted with the main fault-lines that have existed in Western societies in recent centuries: fault-lines of race and colour between European and African, and of race and religion between Jew and Gentile.

An eminent American legal scholar once said African slavery had been “the living lie” in America’s official heritage of democracy and individual freedom. Black America took one hundred years from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King Jr., to begin to overcome the impossible odds against it. Sports, music, show-biz and the arts were obvious arenas for public demonstration of individual genius. Athletes like Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Arthur Ashe, musicians like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Eartha Kitt, “in-your-face” satirists like Sammy Davis Jr, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy upto and including modern rapsters and many thousands of others demonstrated that Black America was not going away anywhere, certainly not returning to Liberia, was going to stay in and permanently alter American life and culture, and wondered if anyone thought otherwise. The degree of assimilation into non-black cultures would be a matter of personal choice, not social or economic compulsion. During the Bush invasion of Iraq, Harry Belafonte re-ignited an old controversy when he referred to his fellow West Indian and perfectly assimilated Colin Powell in context of the “plantation slave”/”house slave” dichotomy: plantation slaves were externally oppressed but felt free within while house slaves had more comforts but were docile compradors inside their souls.

Immigrant communities from the subcontinent have had their share of the same. It has been all too easy for young people to reach academic highs in New Delhi or Kolkata only to escape to obscure corners of America and lead docile subservient unfulfilling lives forever afterwards, in exchange for material and ultimately meaningless rewards. It might be called the Madhuri Dixit Phenomenon of being transformed from celebrity-status in India to becoming a complete unknown in America.

Jewish-Gentile divide

The Jewish-Gentile divide in Western civilisation has been more insidious and damaging to mankind, and potentially remains so as the anger it generates has been transferred onto modern Muslims instead. At its unspoken roots is the frank Jewish theological assessment that Jesus of Nazareth was at most a wise and honest rabbi, not Christ Immanent ~ a veracious blow that seems to remove the corner-stone of all European culture and civilisation. The length of mutual recriminations and miscomprehensions as well as self-deceptions and cruelties over the millennia that have resulted on both sides, remains endless. On the Christian side there has been the vile persecution of Jews for centuries. On the Jewish side, there has arisen the vast myth that today’s Israel has something to do with the ancient Hebrews, when contemporary Jews likely descend mostly from the conversion to Judaism of the Khazar Khanate in the second half of the 9th Century (see e.g. Paul Meerts, “Assessing Khazaria”, International Institute for Asian Studies July 2004). In between Jewish and Christian self-deceptions and mutual misunderstandings has arisen Anti-Semitism, Zionism, and also Anti-Zionism (many thoughtful Jews having opposed the creation of Israel). As George Eliot, Hannah Arendt and many others noticed, the assimilation of 19th Century Jews into elite society in Vienna or London was only permitted where some exceptional individual genius was displayed, most prominently perhaps in case of Benjamin Disraeli who became Victoria’s Prime Minister. Even that acceptance of assimilated “exceptional” Jews came to disintegrate into the horrors of the 20th Century, from which we are yet to recover. Modern American foreign policy has been partly driven by the East and West Coasts’ understanding or misunderstanding of that history.

Understanding Pakistan

UNDERSTANDING PAKISTAN

First published in The Sunday Statesman & The Statesman Editorial Page Special Article

30-31 July, 2006

By

Subroto Roy

Pakistan’s political institutions have failed to develop properly over sixty years. Yet in the last ten years or more, its Government has acquired weapons of mass destruction and in 1998-99 its Foreign Minister half-threatened to use these against India in a first strike. As a religious and cultural phenomenon and as a putative nation-state, Pakistan needs to be sought to be understood in as unbiased and objective a manner as possible, not least by Pakistanis themselves, as well as by Afghans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, Americans,Israelis, Arabs, Iranians etc. besides ourselves in India.

The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had some substance since orthodox Muslims constantly face temptations in the world existing around them from materialism, scepticism, syncretism, pantheism etc. Some responded defensively to the Westernisation/modernisation of India’s Hindus, Parsees and Christians by becoming insular and separatist in outlook, and anti-individualist or communal in behaviour.

“We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” declared Wali Allah (1703-1762), a contemporary of Nejd’s founder of Wahhabism. “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching”, declared Barelvi (1786-1831), who also initiated the idea of a religious mass migration of North Indian Muslims. His movement saw “jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith… it chose as the venue of jihad the NW Frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers…” (A. Ahmed, in Basham (ed) Cultural History of India).

Political and psychological tensions between Pakistan’s Pashtun/Baloch tribal people and Punjabi/ Urdu elite continue to this day, even when many of the former have integrated into industries and vocations controlled by the latter. The highlanders were never part of Hindu societies, while the plainsmen, whether they admit it or not, ethnically were converts for the most part from India’s native religions (though here again the religious syncretism of Sindhis, both Muslim and Hindu, may be contrasted with orthodoxy). Barelvi’s theocracy, named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya, had remnants near Sittana until the First World War, and his followers are still a major component of Pakistan’s most orthodox today.

Muslim separatism in North India would have been futile without British political backing. As early as 1874, the British saw their advantage: “The existence side by side of these hostile creeds (Hindu and Muslim) is one of the strong points in our political position in India. The better classes of Mohammedans are a source of strength to us and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but an energetic minority of the population whose political interests are identical with ours.” When the Agha Khan’s 1906 delegation first pleaded for communal representation, Minto agreed with them, and Minto’s wife wrote in her diary the effect was “nothing less than the pulling back of sixty two millions (of Muslims) from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition.” The slogan “If you are not with us you are against us” was always widely applied by the British in India in the form “If you dare to not be with us, we definitely will be with your adversaries”.

One obscure ideological current of today’s Pakistan came via the enigmatic personage of Inayatullah Mashriqi (1888-1963), who, from being a Cambridge Wrangler, became a friend of Adolf Hitler in 1926, received a Renault as a gift from Hitler (possibly housed in a Lahore museum today) and claimed to have affected Hitler’s ideology. Mashriqi created the Khaksars, modelled on the Nazi SA, and was often jailed for violence.

But the official ideology of today’s Pakistan came from Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938), an admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche. Indeed, “Pakistan” would have been better named “Iqbalistan” and its nationals “Iqbalians”, just as countries like Colombia, the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc. have been named after an individual person. Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Speech to the Muslim League in Allahabad conceptualised the country that exists today: “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state…the formation of a consolidated NW Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of NW India… India is the greatest Muslim country in the world. The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory… “

Though Kashmiri himself, Iqbal was silent about J&K being any part of this new entity. Nor did he see this Muslim country being theocratic or filled with anti-Hindu bigotry: “A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities…. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of my life and my behaviour; and which has formed me what I am by giving me its religion, its literature, its thought, its culture,and thereby recreating its whole past, as a living operating factor, in my present consciousness… Nor should the Hindus fear that the creation of autonomous Muslim states will mean the introduction of a kind of religious rule in such states…. I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of India and Islam. For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.” Iqbal clearly wished to be rid of the same stamp of Arabian Imperialism that Wali Allah had extolled.

In 1937, Iqbal added an economic dimension referring to Shariat in order that “at least the right to subsistence is secured to everybody”. A “free Muslim state or states” was “the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India.”

Iqbal persuaded MA Jinnah (1876-1948), who had settled once again into his London law practice, to return to India in 1934. But when, following the 1935 Government of India Act, India experienced its first democratic elections in 1937, the Muslim League’s ideology promoted by Iqbal and Jinnah failed miserably in the very four provinces that Iqbal had named.

Three days after Hitler’s attack on Poland, the British chose to politically empower Jinnah. Until September 4 1939, the British “had had little time for Jinnah and his League. The Government’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September, however, transformed the situation. A large part of the army was Muslim, much of the war effort was likely to rest on the two Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. The following day, the Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on an equal footing with Gandhi…. because the British found it convenient to take the League seriously, everyone had to as well” (F. Robinson, in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy). Jinnah himself was amazed: “suddenly there was a change in the attitude towards me. I was treated on the same basis as Mr Gandhi. I was wonderstruck why all of a sudden I was promoted and given a place side by side with Mr Gandhi.”

Britain at war was faced too with intransigence from the Congress — Gandhi, for example, rudely dismissing the 1942 Cripps offer as a “post-dated cheque on a failing bank”. It was unsurprising this would contribute to the British tilt towards Congress’s adversary. Suddenly, Rahmat Ali’s acronym “PAKSTAN” , supposedly invented on the top floor of a London bus, was becoming a credible possibility.

By 1946, Muslim electoral opinion had changed drastically in the League’s favour. By 1947, Iqbal’s lofty philosophical vision of a cultured Muslim state had degenerated into irrational street mobs shouting: “Larke lenge Pakistan; Marke lenge Pakistan; Khun se lenge Pakistan; Dena hoga Pakistan”.

Events remote from India’s history and geography, namely, Hitler’s rise and the Second World War, had contributed between 1937 and 1947 to the change of fortune of Jinnah’s League, and hence the fate of all the people of the subcontinent. Even so, thanks to AK Azad’s diplomacy, the May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan denying Partition and Pakistan did come to be accepted by Jinnah’s Muslim League, and it was doubtless the obduracy and megalomania of Azad’s Congress colleagues which contributed equally to the failure to find a political solution ~ along with the vapid behaviour of a pompous, vacuous Mountbatten who caused infinite uncertainty until June 3 1947, as to what was going to happen to the lives of scores of millions of ordinary people within a few weeks.

In August 1947, the new Pakistani elite hardly felt or even wished to feel free of the British ~ they merely felt independent of what they saw as Congress domination, and had now acquired some power for themselves. Far from any nation-building taking place, Pakistan’s early years were marked by political, legal, constitutional and military chaos and trauma. Both Dominions made a grab for the Raj’s common assets, especially the armed forces.

Indeed, how did the Kashmir problem originate? As much as any other factor, it occurred because of the incompetent partitioning of military assets and hurried decommissioning of British Indian armies ~ causing thousands of Mirpuri soldiers to return to a communally inflamed Punjab/ Jammu region.

The first J&K war started within weeks of Partition and was in all but name a civil war ~ somewhat like the American Civil War. It was a civil war not merely between Kashmir’s National and Muslim Conferences but also between Army regiments who had been jointly fighting Britain’s enemies until very recently.

Pakistan’s leadership vacuum started at once. Jinnah was ill and died shortly. Liaquat Ali Khan was the only politician of any experience left. He faced on one side Pashtuns having no wish to be dominated by a new Karachi/ Rawalpindi elite, and on the other side, the Kashmir conflict. The most basic functions of governance never got started. Taking a Census has been one such function since Roman times, yet Pakistan has never had one. Writing a Constitution is another, but Maududi and others demanded “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. As a result, Pakistan’s few constitutionalists have been battling impossibly ever since to overcome the ontological mistake made of assuming that any earthly government, no matter how pious, can be in communication with God Almighty as easily as it can be with foreign governments.

The Rule of Law is another basic function. But when Liaquat was himself assassinated in 1951, his assassin was killed on the spot yet the murder remained unsolved. Mashriqi was immediately arrested because of his hostility to the Muslim League, but later released. Because the assassin was Pashtun, Afghanistan was blamed but the Afghan Government proved otherwise. The investigating policeman was killed in an aircrash, and all documents went with him. Final suspicion pointed towards Akbar Khan, the renegade Army general who had led the attack on J&K and was in jail for the Rawalpindi conspiracy. Years later, Liaquat’s widow (the former Irene Pant of Naini Tal) rued the fact no one was ever prosecuted.

After Liaquat’s assassination, the period of Ghulam Mohammad, Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali Bogra, Chaudhury Mohammad Ali, and most importantly, Iskander Mirza leading up to Ayub Khan’s Martial Law in 1958, was simply appalling in its display of the sheer irresponsibility of Pakistan’s new super-elite. Instead of domestic nation-building or fulfilling the basic functions of governance, close comprador relations came to be established with the US and British Governments ~ exemplified by Mirza’s elder son taking the American Ambassador’s daughter as his (first) wife and moving to a lifelong career with the World Bank in Washington. This comprador relationship between Washington, London and Pakistan’s super-elite flourishes and continues to this day. E.g., the current World Bank head and architect of the 2003 Bush invasion of Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, remains in a mentoring relationship with Shaukat Aziz, a former American bank executive, who is General Musharraf’s Prime Minister. For better or worse, Pakistan’s Government will never veer from the side of Anglo-American policy while such comprador relationships remain intact.

Before the 1971 war, West Pakistan was in a frenzy from a propaganda campaign of “Crush India” and “Hang Mujib”. General Niazi’s surrender to General Arora in Dhaka Stadium ~ causing 90,000 PoWs whom India then protected from Bangladeshi revenge ~ shocked Pakistan and shattered the self-image of its Army. ZA Bhutto was the only populist politician of the country ever, and his few years held vanishing promise of a normal political agenda (no matter how economically misguided) finally arising. But Bhutto suppressed the new Baloch revolt with the Shah of Iran’s military help; at the same time he failed to protect his own back against Zia ul Haq’s coup, leading to his judicial murder in 1979. Zia tried to rebuild the Army’s shattered esprit de corps the only way he knew how, which was by indoctrinating the Punjabi officer corps with Sunni dogmatism. This coincided with the Afghan civil war, influx of refugees, and US-Saudi-Chinese plan to defeat the USSR. Pakistan’s super-elite in their comprador role were happy to allow themselves to be used again and be hung out to dry afterwards.

All normal branches of Pakistan’s polity, like the electorate,press, political parties, Legislature and Judiciary, have remained at best in ill-formed inchoate states of being. The economy remains, like India’s, one fed on endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of inconvertible paper money, though Pakistan has had relatively more labour emigration and much less foreign investment and technological progress than India. Both are wracked by corruption, poverty, ignorance and superstition.

Over half a century, the military has acquired vast economic and political interests and agendas, on pretext of protecting Pakistan from India or gaining “Kashmeer” for it. With few and noble exceptions, academics, politicians and journalists have remained timid in face of fascistic State-power with its militarist/Islamist ideology ~ causing a transferance of the people’s anger and frustration onto an easier target, namely ourselves in India. Anti-Indianism (especially over J&K) remains the sole unifying factor of Pakistan’s super-elite, regardless of what history’s objective facts may have to say. Much political courage and understanding will be needed for that to be reversed.

All countries hunger for genuine national heroes who take upon themselves individual risks on behalf of ordinary people. Wali Khan stood up to his father’s jailors, and young Benazir of 1980s vintage to her father’s executioner. But Pakistan has had few such heroes,certainly none among its bemedalled generals. Why AQ Khan is seen as a hero is because he at least took some personal risks, and finally brought Pakistan a kind of respect and independence in the world with his Bomb.

The Greatest Pashtun: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

THE GREATEST PASHTUN

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, July 16 2006

 

By

 

SUBROTO ROY

 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) was without a doubt the greatest political genius the Pashtun people have yet produced.

 

Understanding the political economy of the Pashto/Pakhto speaking peoples, as well as the Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and other inhabitants of Afghanistan, remains a top intellectual challenge for everyone including themselves. Afghans have hardly lived a peaceful decade since Genghiz Khan destroyed them avenging his grandson in the 13th Century.  Ghazni, Ghor, Peshawar etc. were launch-pads for attacks against the settled people of India’s fertile plains (most recently, the October 1947 attack on Kashmir Valley) while Herat saw wars by and against Iran.

 

Lyall, one of the architects of 19th Century British policy, thought Afghans “wretched”, “treacherous barbarians with whom it was an unfortunate necessity to have any dealings at all”… “I can only sympathise with the Afghan’s love for his country and his hatred against those who disturb him, although he has no scruple in disturbing others to the best of his savage ability”. Yet the British idea of Russian armies marching into India through Afghanistan was always a wild exaggeration, especially after joint boundary commissions demarcated the imperial spheres of influence. When the Russians did finally enter and occupy Afghanistan in 1978-79, they lived to regret it; and they arrived in independent India on passenger aircraft, were greeted as fraternal socialists selling weapons, and remain so today. Pakistan’s generals exaggerated the prospect of Russia seeking warm water ports, first to Nixon (as Vice President) then to Carter and Reagan, causing the Americans to happily supply weapons which the generals promptly turned against India.

 

Ghaffar Khan was and remains the only thoughtful figure in Pashtun history who invented a new, living political philosophy as a constructive force for his people’s peace and progress. Even though his ideology failed to take permanent root or survive among them, he commanded universal respect among all Pashtuns and Afghans and became “Badshah Khan” or “Bacha Khan” to them. Afghanistan’s civil war, in which the USSR was pit against the USA, Pakistan etc, stopped with a ceasefire in 1988 for his burial to take place in Jalalabad, with a funeral procession that was miles long.

 

Pashtun and other Afghan and Arab tribal people have become notorious today by their association with the dogmatism, intellectual insularity and retrograde ideology of Muslim extremism. Yet Osama bin Laden and his Taliban and other friends have been unable to make any moral argument for the cause of violence other than one built on revenge for perceived or misperceived injustices against Muslims. “Because you have done this and this to Muslim people, we are bound by the code of vengeance to do this to you” is just about the entire quantum of moral reasoning contained in Al-Qaida’s statements. “Revenge is a wild kind of justice” and circumstances can exist where injustice is so deep that only revenge suffices in rectification. The current case of the rape-murder of an Iraqi girl and her family by a group of renegade American soldiers may be one such, which explicitly led to the kidnap, torture and murder of some of the soldiers by Iraqis seeking vengeance. But justice too is a civilised kind of revenge, and the transition from a code of revenge to a code of justice is precisely the transition from tribal warfare to civilisation. In Western countries, it occurred recently enough when duelling with swords or pistols came to be banned, giving way to the law of torts.

 

Ghaffar Khan attempted to change the Pashtun code in this one fundamental and all-important direction by abolishing the right to revenge. In its place he brought the doctrine of non-violence. “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”Patience and righteousness are not political virtues that seem to find much mention in Islamic or Afghan folklore, and doubtless they arose in Ghaffar Khan’s thought and actions at least partly through his encounter with Christian altruism, first with Rev. Wigram his schoolmaster, and later in adult life with the Tolstoy-Thoreau doctrines applied along with Jain ahimsa by MK Gandhi in the movement for Indian independence.

 

“It is the weapon of the Prophet” was Ghaffar Khan making explicit he was and remained at all times the most devout of Muslims and none could say otherwise; “but you are not aware of it” was his new move to tell his people they had misled themselves by sacerdotalism and needed to read the Prophet’s life and message afresh. He once told M. K. Gandhi how he explained to amazed Punjabi Muslim Leaguers the precise evidence in favour of non-violence from the Prophet’s life in Mecca, leaving his audience speechless.

 

Today’s “Taliban” were named for their purported piety; Lashkar-e-Taiba even means “Army of the Pious”, the typical image being of pious studious youth seated memorising scriptures in a Pakistani madrassa, and later waving AK-47s in a moving truck. Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar “Servants of God” were their polar opposite. Each of some 120,000 members of the order took a fierce oath to non-violence and renunciation: “I am a Servant of God, and as God needs no service, but serving his creation is serving him, I promise to serve humanity in the name of God; to refrain from violence and from taking revenge; to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty; to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity; to treat every Pathan as my brother and friend; to refrain from antisocial customs and practices; to live a simple life, to practice virtue, and to refrain from evil; to practice good manners and good behaviour and not to lead a life of idleness… I will sacrifice my wealth, life, and comfort for the liberty of my nation and people… side with the oppressed against the oppressor… live in accordance with principles of nonviolence… serve all God’s creatures alike… my object shall be the attainment of the freedom of my country and my religion. … will never desire any reward whatever for my service. All my efforts shall be to please God, and not for any show or gain.”

 

In their founder’s words, the Khudai Khidmatgars were to be ready to lay down their own lives for their cause and never take any life doing so. They became far more forceful practitioners of non-violence than their Gandhian Indian counterparts in the struggle for political freedom from the British, and hundreds of them died in Peshawar under British brutality.

 

In 1893, Durand’s controversial boundary-line gave the British control over the three mountain passes between Afghanistan and India in exchange for raising the annual British subsidy to the Afghan Amir by 50% from Rs 8 lakhs to 12 lakhs. Today, the Durand Line roughly separates perhaps 10 million Pashtun comprising 40% of Afghanistan’s population from perhaps 8 million Pashtun who are Pakistani nationals (no one has exact figures as there has been no census). In the 1950s and 1960s, the Afghan Government backed by the USSR, on pretence that the Durand Line had not been freely accepted by Afghans, wished for a “Pakhtoonistan” under its sway.

 

Though jailed by the new and nervous Pakistanis, Ghaffar Khan was averse to any truck with the Afghan Government ~ he had not demanded erasing the Durand Line but had demanded a separate and distinct “Pashtunistan”. A mature self-confident federal Pakistan today would bifurcate itself vertically into one or two mountainous western provinces on one side, and two or three river valley eastern provinces on the other. The former could be named “East Pashtunistan” if the Baloch agreed, or East Pashtunistan and Baluchistan otherwise, and extend to the port of Gwadar, while the latter would remain Punjab, Sindh and “Northern Kashmir”.

 

Along with an Afghan “West Pashtunistan” and an Indian “Southern Kashmir”, a stable design of peaceful nation-states from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India would be then finally in place. Badshah Khan’s influence in death may yet become greater than his influence in life.

 

Addendum to *Modern World History, 2006*

Subroto Roy adds  at Facebook to his 2006 essay *Modern World History* as follows:

“Throughout the 19th Century and spilling into the 20th, from the rise of Napoleon to the start of WWI, first France and then Britain were in rapid ascendancy in the world – only to decline (into near nothingness in case of France) in WWII before recovering to return to the rank of respectable powers in the second half of the 20thC. The 20th C saw rise of Germany, Japan, Communist Russia & the USA to world supremacy; Germany and Japan then vanquished themselves into near nothingness by wars they created, and Russia too, perhaps less so, by the (Leninist-Stalinist) ideology it had adopted as a cost of progress; the victor in each case was the USA and its allies Britain and France. At the close of the 20th C, the USA was unquestionably predominant in the world – only to receive a sudden and near-blinding blow in the eye by way of the 9/11 attacks from which it has taken a decade to recover. China, India and the Muslim world remain, in the main, defensive powers, not seeking foreign dominions themselves so much as seeking to prevent further foreign domination as they have suffered in the past – in this China, both Communist and Non-Communist, may be more successful than the others. Israel and Iran are indeed the new kids on the block and their unruly conflict does indeed portend the gravest risk to world tranquility in the 21st Century. Martin Buber’s statement suggesting Israel should seek to be an Asian and not a European power “pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, alliance with the peoples of the East, so as to erect with them together a great federative structure, which might learn and receive from the West whatever positive aims and means might be learnt and received from it, without, however, succumbing to the influence of its inner disarray and aimlessness”, holds an important key.

Modern World History

MODERN WORLD HISTORY

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006

MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.

A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.

Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and  automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.

It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.

Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.

Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.

Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.

War or Peace

WAR OR PEACE

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman

Editorial Page Special Article, February 23-24, 2006

An American Attack On Iran Will End The Post-1945 System Of Nation-States

The relevance of the Iran-USA conflict to India’s energy, nuclear and strategic future is obvious, yet it appears ill understood by New Delhi’s bureaucrats and politicians, whether neo-communist or neo-fascist. It is understood even less by Islamabad’s army generals, all of whose official brainpower has been perpetually consumed by one subject alone: how to obtain J&K for Pakistan by hook or by crook from India. Yet Iran’s potential nuclear weapons arose entirely thanks to sales by Pakistan’s AQ Khan and the ISI — friends or allies of the USA, just like Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein once had been. We may surmise that a possible war will be quite catastrophic for the world, and India’s and Pakistan’s region of it in particular.

Israel’s piecemeal strategy
The Americans and Israelis may be assumed to have developed over years contingency plans to attack Iran by air and/or sea, though Israel is unlikely to take any offensive role in view of the circumstances of the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career. For one hundred years, the security and prosperity of the Zionist migration to Palestine, which came to be transmuted into the Israeli Republic in the middle of the 20th Century, has been defined as a matter of vital national interest first by Britain and then by America. Badly outnumbered by hostile Muslim countries, Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur war adopted a long-term piecemeal strategy of diplomacy with Egypt, Jordan and North Africa; co-existence with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf; battle with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians leading to co-existence; and indirect war, using the USA and UK as proxies, with Iraq and Iran leading in due course to co-existence.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution in 1978-1979 caused Iran’s Islamic Republic to start to pose a major ideological threat to Israel. But during the decade of the Iran-Iraq war that started immediately after the Iranian Revolution, neither could pose any possible military threat to Israel. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was a result of the Iran-Iraq war, and since then Saddam has been neutralised by the Americans as a military threat to Israel. A new Iran, torn between a modern future for itself and a return to its revolutionary origins, is the last Muslim nation-state that could possibly threaten Israel. Pakistan would never dare to do so, nor wish to do so in view of its single-minded obsession for almost sixty years with trying to obtain J&K from India, or to dominate India any which way it can. The Pakistanis — having been Indians previously (even A Q Khan was born in Bhopal) — want to rule or dominate Delhi, or at least display their self-styled superiority to Hindus. They are uninterested from a psychological perspective in what happens to European and American Jews in the Middle East because they are mostly of Indian origin themselves.

Pakistanis’ explicit hatred (or implicit love) of India is at least in part a hatred (or love) of themselves. The US State Department and Pentagon have realised that as long as they tilt towards Pakistan on J&K now and then, the Pakistani Government will stay obsessed with its relationship with India alone, and also remain an American ally.

Possible nuclear strike
The questions to be asked now are when the Americans will make an attack on Iran, what manner it will take, and what Iranian and Muslim and world reaction will be. Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities a quarter century ago taught the Iranians to go underground and disperse their facilities around the country. Conventional heavy B52, B2 or Stealth bombing or cruise-missile attacks using ships, submarines and carrier-based aircraft from American forward bases in Diego Garcia, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, Turkey or former Soviet Republics will kill at least 10,000 Iranians even if there are American warnings to evacuate human populations. Much physical havoc will be caused to Iran’s two dozen main nuclear installations, delaying or crippling Iran’s ambitions by years. But it is unlikely such attacks will succeed in wiping out Iran’s capacity. America’s warplans may thus include exploding small nuclear warheads on Iran’s suspected installations. If that happens, it would be the first use of atomic weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It is doubtful if the world as a whole will actually condemn American use of heavy bombing or even small nuclear weapons against Iran in anything but words. Permanent changes in the post-1945 system of international institutions will certainly result. Kofi Annan (or his successor) will resign, ending the UN staff’s effete pontificating. Indeed, all the inefficient, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva and elsewhere may come to close down. The Japanese Left will weep and wring their hands while the Right will renew calls for Japan’s re-militarization.  North Korea’s Kim will issue warnings of how crazy he is. India’s PMO and MEA will express deepest concern, sorrow and tears; after the communists bluster about in Delhi and Kolkata, this will be enlarged to unequivocal condemnation. But India’s anti-Muslim brigades will remain silent and smiling and the VHP/Bajrang Dal will say it is revenge for Nadir Shah and assorted other Iranian plunderers in India’s past. JNU, AMU etc. historians and Bollywood and Tollywood showbiz personalities will hold seminars and processions and shake their fists at America. Pakistan’s Government will issue strong condemnations and call in the American Ambassador for a talking to, then explain to the Karachi street-mobs how important it is to continue the alliance with America so that J&K may be gained for Pakistan one day. The Hurriyat and other friends of Pakistan will agree with Pakistan and demonstrate in Srinagar against India and America. Russia will privately regret its impotence while Putin will refuse to turn up at a G-8 meeting in protest. The Chinese will shake their heads, warning Taiwan not to think itself as loved by America as Israel is. Muslim countries will rant and rave Death to America, and recruit thousands of new suicide bombers. France and Britain will look for new reconstruction or weapons contracts once the smoke clears. Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Canada and New Zealand will hold candle-light peace vigils. South America’s leftists will decry Il Nord from high in the Andes or deep in the Amazon. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama and the Pope will condemn the inhumanity of it all. Australia will agree with America. That may be just about all, except the oil price will reach $200 a barrel momentarily, then settle at $150 for ever, causing large macroeconomic problems for several years in the world economy.

The new ideology
Iran itself will be plunged into greater political and economic disarray than it is in already. It is unlikely to be intimidated into accepting Western conditions straightaway. Nor will it experience any kind of “regime-change” with Non-Resident Iranian-Americans coming back from Los Angeles to try their hand at a little government and money-making at home. Iran would launch conventional war against the 140,000 American infantry in Iraq as well as missiles against Israel, but is unlikely to make much successful war against American or Israeli interests. But Iraq’s Shia majority would join with them, and make America’s departure more prompt from an anarchic, chaotic and disintegrating Iraq, hanging Saddam Hussein before they go. Essentially, Iran’s ability to pose any conceivable military threat to Israel will have been militarily neutralized, just as has happened to Iraq recently, and to Egypt, Jordan etc. by diplomacy and foreign aid ever since Jimmy Carter’s Sadat-Begin summit in 1978. Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah will remain but Israel can on its own battle them defensively anytime.

The cost of having eliminated all possible military threats to Israel permanently will have been rendering chaos and immense destruction upon the erstwhile Republics of Iran and Iraq. But that is not a cost that America’s public cares very much about, and so will not appear much on American TV screens or America’s public memory for very long. Iraq and Iran will have been neutralised and destroyed as legal entities and modern nation-states, being left instead as large oil-fields and chaotic/anarchic polities and societies under sway of American and Western military forces. The return in the 21st Century to the pre-1945 world of imperialism would entail an end of the system of worldwide nation-states that was attempted with the United Nations experiment (the progeny of US President Woodrow Wilson’s “League of Nations”), and the imposition of a new ideology of the West vs. the Rest.

A Mature Israel Is The Key To Averting An American Attack On Iran

It would be better for everyone in the world, including Israel and America, if an American attack against Iran could somehow be averted. Muslim cultures have much long-term patience — a virtue modern American culture most conspicuously lacks. There are Iraqi mothers who have promised their unborn sons for vengeance against America and Iranian mothers may well join them. America’s TV-driven culture can barely remember who said or did what last week, whereas ideological Muslims rehearse and revisit endlessly every day what supposedly happened in Muslim history over 1200 years ago. Indeed ideological Muslims and their orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist adversaries have all tended to be obsessed with the purported ancient histories of the three faiths that arose in the deserts of Palestine and Arabia — though none of these religious histories or any other may be able to withstand very much rigorous academic or scientific scrutiny.

Martin Buber
What has been forgotten too has been the early joint history of Zionists and Palestinians together. Founders of Zionism, including Theodor Herzl himself, who began his campaign in Vienna about 1897 in response to European anti-Jewish behaviour, envisioned “brotherhood” and “cooperation” with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, where new Jewish immigrants were to find refuge from the decades of tyranny against them in Europe long before Hitler arose. Martin Buber, the profound Hasidic philosopher and Zionist, corresponded with Rabindranath Tagore about the need to build a strong “federative” structure among all the peoples of the East — because the peoples of the West seemed to Buber to have become lost and aimless. (It is not impossible America’s entry into the First World War in 1917, which thwarted a possible German victory, was part of a complicated trade-off in which the Balfour Declaration by Britain promising creation of an Israel, living peacefully with the Arabs in Palestine, was another part.) It was only later revisionist Zionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, who proposed a complete separation of Jew from Arab in that small land — which is where we seem to have been headed now decades later. Israel and Pakistan were the only two countries created in the 20th Century, and about the same time, supposedly as “homelands” for people based on religious definitions alone. The Zionist Movement was ongoing by the early 1930s, and young Rahmat Ali, the lonely ideological inventor of the term “PAKSTAN” on the top floor of a London bus in 1934, might well have been influenced by what he heard of it.

The one way war may be preventable today is if Israel’s political centre and right-wing (i.e. the Kadima and Likud parties) came to obtain and declare a clear and justifiable view that (a) an American attack on Iran would be counter- productive; and/or (b) that an Iran, even a nuclear armed Iran, shall not be a tangible threat to Israel. If an American attack on Iran is ultimately premised on the defence of Israel, and if the Israelis themselves come to justifiably believe such an attack overall could be a very bad thing and told the Americans so publicly or privately, there would no longer be reason for the Americans to be preparing to make such an attack, and instead could keep their almost 600 warships and submarines in harbour or on normal patrol around the world.

Israeli security assessment

There may be enough reason on both these points for Israel’s toughest hawks to agree that superior alternatives to war need to be and can be found. On the first, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, has recently said that Israel may yet come to regret the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. His confidential speech to students preparing for military service came to be secretly recorded and was then broadcast on Israeli TV. “When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos… I’m not sure we won’t miss Saddam”, saying a strong dictatorship may have been better than the present “chaos” in Iraq. Israeli security assessments are likely to be far more astute than what gets to be produced in America’s East Coast think tanks. The near-chaos the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq in 2003 has caused will be multiplied several fold if there was now a major attack on Iran, let aside use of atomic bombs against it. Such an attack may be in fact wholly counterproductive.

Secondly, Israel needs to abandon her feigned immaturity and coyness with respect to her erstwhile Anglo-American guardians, and instead demonstrate to the world and her neighbours in particular that she is a mature and responsible adult in international politics. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. have said in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 2004 that Israel had promised the USA “it [would] not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East…A taboo was created… By September 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon had reached a new secret understanding of the issue. Meir pledged that Israel would not declare its nuclear status, would not test its weapons, and would not use its nuclear capability for diplomatic gains. Rather, the Israeli bomb would be kept in the basement, for use only as a last resort. Israel would not join the NPT, but it would not defy it either. What had begun as a taboo turned into a symbiotic policy. The United States stopped pressuring Israel and accepted a de facto policy of `don’t ask, don’t tell’. …Today … Israel’s policy of nuclear secrecy stands in profound tension with the basic values upon which the country’s democracy rests: the principles of accountability, oversight, and the public’s right to know. In the absence of public debate (and public debate requires some factual information) the taboo only reinforces and perpetuates itself….By becoming more transparent and by associating itself in some way with the nonproliferation regime — from which it indirectly benefits — Israel could gain an important element of legitimacy for its program and for its security posture…. The basic technology needed to create nuclear weapons is increasingly available. Capabilities once possessed only by a few governments can now be purchased in stores and marketplaces around the world. If nuclear weapon states are ever to achieve deep cuts in their nuclear stockpiles — an important part of the basic bargain of the NPT and essential to the long-term viability of the treaty — some account has to be taken of Israel, India, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. They must be integrated into the non- proliferation regime”.

The road to peace
Israel declaring itself a nuclear weapons power of long-standing with an independent deterrent the size of France or Britain (with perhaps 500 nuclear warheads, more than China, India and Pakistan combined), would be more than enough by way of military warning to its potential adversaries. Indeed even if Iran (having bought from Pakistan’s programme which itself had bought from North Korea and China) was allowed over the next dozen years to crawl towards half a dozen nuclear warheads of its own, recognition and normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran, and Israel and Pakistan, could be followed by a new protocol between Israel, India, Pakistan and Iran. Israel, India and Pakistan are not signatories to the existing NPT and Iran has now declared its intent, as a sovereign signatory, to exit the NPT as well. To get Iran and Israel to recognise one another and establish diplomatic relations would be of course a masterly feat of international diplomacy. But it is not impossible if adequate knowledge and determination can be mustered in good time before it becomes too late. Finally of course, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned in his Farewell Address to the American people in 1961, an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” must also rein in America’s “military industrial complex”.

see also https://independentindian.com/2006/04/06/irans-nationalism/

Separation of Powers: India, the USA, Pakistan

SEPARATION OF POWERS

Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws outlined a doctrine that applies to India, the USA and all constitutional democracies: there is no monopoly of political wisdom.

By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article Feb 12-13 2006

The Speaker’s noble office is that of the single member of the House, traditionally chosen by unanimity, whose task it is to self-effacingly maintain order in Parliamentary debate and proceedings, so that the House’s work gets done. C’est tout. Once chosen Speaker, he ipso facto retires from partisan politics for life. The Speaker neither contributes to the substance of Parliamentary debate (except in the rare case of a tie) nor has to feel personally responsible for Parliament’s conduct.

Our Parliament has tended to become so dysfunctional since Indira Gandhi and her sycophants destroyed its traditions 30 years ago, that supervising its normal work is an onerous enough task for even the finest of Speakers to handle.

The Lok Sabha’s incumbent Speaker has tended to see himself as the champion of Parliament.  He need not.  He does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha; the Government Party does. We have had the oddest peculiarity unfolding in India at present where the person who does command the Lok Sabha’s majority, and therefore who would be normally defined as Prime Minister of India, has chosen to nominate someone who is not a member of the Lok Sabha to act as Prime Minister, i.e. to command the Lok Sabha’s majority. (The Rajya Sabha was and remains irrelevant to most things important to Indian democracy, regardless of its narcissism and vanity). Someone with access to 10 Janpath should have told Sonia Gandhi in May 2004 that if she did not wish to be PM and wanted to gift the job to someone else, she should do so to someone who, like herself, had been elected to the Lok Sabha, like Pranab Mukherjee (elected for the first time) or Kamal Nath or Priya Ranjan (both veterans).

Manmohan Singh, a former Lok Sabha candidate, may as Finance Minister have been able to progress much further with economic reforms. But sycophancy has ruled the roost in the Congress’s higher echelons, and nobody had the guts to tell her that. Indeed as early as December 2001, Congress leaders knew that in the unlikely event they won the polls, Manmohan Singh would likely be PM by Sonia Gandhi’s choice (though he was not expected to last long at the top), and yet he did not contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2004.

The Government of the day, not the Speaker, is Parliament’s champion in any discussion with the Supreme Court over constitutional rights and Separation of Powers. And the Government has in fact quietly and sensibly requested the Supreme Court to set up a Constitutional Bench for this purpose. Such a Constitutional Bench shall have cause to ask itself how far Kesavananda Bharati needs to be tweaked if at all to accommodate the contention that Parliament has a right to judge its own members. The Court may well likely say that of course Parliament has a right to judge its own members but even that right is not an absolute right, (nothing is). Even Parliament’s right to judge its own members must be in accordance with natural law, with principles of justice, with due and clearly defined processes. E.g. the established Privileges Committee and not the ad hoc Bansal Committee had to do the needful.

Imagine a hypothetical case of fantastic fiction where half a dozen independent MPs are elected to a future Lok Sabha, and then take it upon themselves to expose corruption and shenanigans of all major political parties. Our fantastic super-heroes become whistleblowers within Parliament itself while remaining totally incorruptible as individuals — like Eliot Ness’s team who jailed Al Capone and other gangsters, and came to be depicted in Hollywood’s The Untouchables. These Untouchables would come to be feared and despised by everyone from Communists on one side of the political spectrum to Fascists on the other. They would upset everybody precisely because they were so clean and were not purchasable. The Government and Opposition of the day might wellgang up to expel such troublemakers and even fabricate charges to do so. (Now there’s a script for a Bollywood movie!)

What our Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench decides now in the matter at hand will determine the fate of our super-heroes in such a future fantasia. The present case is a polar opposite — where MPs have been caught on camera with their sordid fingers in the cookie-jar, and then made to walk the plank immediately by their peers. Yet natural law applies here as it will to our fantastic future fighters, and this is what the Bench would have to speak on.

Why the present situation continues to be disconcerting is because the whole country heard all the holier-than-thou protestations, yet everyone continues to take a very dim view of what they see of politicians’ behaviour. There remain strong suspicions that only a few very tiny tips of very large icebergs were or can be caught on camera. Large-scale deals and contracts involve payments into invisible bank accounts, not petty cash into pockets or even suitcases filled with cash sloshing around Delhi.

What we have desperately needed in the situation is modern prime ministerial leadership which could intelligently and boldly guide national debate in the right direction on the whole matter of probity in public life. Why a distinguished parliamentarian like the Speaker has found himself in the limelight is because neither the de jure nor de facto Prime Ministers of India are anywhere to be seen thinking on their feet on these central issues of constitutional procedure and practice. They tend to use prepared scripts and may be temperamentally disinclined to do what has been called for by these unscripted circumstances. (Indeed the much-maligned H. D. Deve Gowda could be alone among the bevy of recent PMs who has been able to think on his feet at all.)

Collapse Before Executive Power

In the meantime, the United States is going through its own Separation of Powers’ crisis. As explained in these columns previously, the American system is distinctly different from the British, and our own system is midway between them. Yet similar principles may be discerned to apply or fail to be applied in all.

Winston Churchill once perspicaciously observed:

“The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than was possessed before (the First World War) by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.”

America’s Legislative Branch has, on paper, strong powers of advice and consent to control errors, excesses or abuse of power by the Executive President. But (with rare and courageous exceptions like Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia) the Legislature cravenly collapsed before the father-son Bush presidencies in regard to the Middle East wars of recent years. America’s once-revered federal judiciary has also tended to lose its independence of mind with overt politicisation of judicial appointments in recent decades.

Bush the First went to war against Saddam Hussein (a former American ally against Islamic Iran) at least partly with an eye to winning re-election in 1992 (which he would have done as a result but for a random shock known as Ross Perot; Bill Clinton became the beneficiary). Bush the Second obsessively wished to follow up on the same, to the point of misjudging the real threat to America from Bin Laden and fabricating a false threat from an emasculated Saddam.

America’s Legislature palpably failed to control her Presidents. Now, late in the day, after all the horses have bolted, the Senate Judiciary Committee began tepid hearings on February 5 2006 into whether the President authorized laws to be broken with impunity in regard to wire-tapping some 5,000 citizens (doubtless mostly non-white and Muslim) without judicial warrants. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the Committee’s Chairman, has said he believes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been “flatly” violated, and “strained and unrealistic” justifications are now being offered. Bush’s men, from his Vice President and Attorney General to political intelligence operatives, have brazenly placed in the dustbin the traditional principle fiat justitia pereat mundus — let justice be done even if the world perishes — saying that the Sovereign can do just as he pleases to save the realm from external enemies as he might perceive and define them to be.

What this kind of collapse in current American practice reveals is a new aspect unknown at the time of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. In the modern world, Separation of Powers involves not merely constitutional institutions like Executive, Legislature and Judiciary but also the normal civil institutions of a free and open society, especially academic institutions and the press. In America, it has been not merely the Legislature and Judiciary which have tended to collapse before Executive Power in regard to the recent Middle East wars, but the media and academia as well.

“Embedded reporters” and Fox TV set the tone for America’s official thought processes about Iraq and the Muslim world — until it has become too late for America’s mainstream media or academics to recover their own credibility on the subject. On the other hand, unofficial public opinion has, in America’s best traditions, demonstrated using vast numbers of Internet websites and weblogs, a spirited Yankee Doodle individuality against the jingoism and war-mongering of the official polity.

Neither the press nor academia had collapsed the same way during America’s last major foreign wars in Vietnam and Cambodia forty years ago, and it may be fairly said that America’s self-knowledge was rather better then than it is now, except of course there were no Internet websites and weblogs.

Our Pakistani Cousins
Across the border from us, our Pakistani cousins are, from a political and constitutional point of view, cut from the same cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act, and the Montague-Chelmsford and Morley-Minto reforms earlier. However, ever since Jinnah’s death, they have refused to admit this and instead embarked haplessly on what can only be called an injudicious path of trying to write a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The primary demand of the main scholars influencing this process was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. By such a view, in the words of Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965.) Pakistan’s few modern constitutionalists have been ever since battling impossibly to overcome the ontological error made here of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty. In the meantime, all normal branches of Pakistan’s polity, like the electorate, press, political parties, Legislature and Judiciary, have remained at best in ill-formed inchoate states of being — while the Pakistan Armed Forces stepped in with their own large economic and political interests and agendas to effectively take over the country and the society as a whole, on pretext of protecting Pakistan from India or of gaining J&K for it. Pakistan’s political problems have the ontological error at their root. Pakistan’s political parties, academics and press, have with rare exceptions remained timid in face of the militaristic State — directing their anger and frustration at an easier target instead, namely ourselves in India. The Pakistan Government’s way of silencing its few political, academic or press dissidents has been to send them into comfortable exile abroad.

Sheikh Abdullah Contrasted
Pakistan’s perpetual constitutional confusion deserves to be contrasted with the clarity of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s thinking, e.g. his 5 November 1951 speech to the Constituent Assembly of J&K: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation, embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions, is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of Article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791:- ‘The source of all sovereignty resides fundamentally in the nation. Sovereignty is one and indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation.’ We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”

Contrasting the Pakistani views of constitution-making with those of Sheikh Abdullah may help to explain a great deal about where we are today on the delicate and profound subject of J&K. (See “Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1—3, 2005)

India’s current debate about Separation of Powers needs to keep at a distance the clear negative examples of our American friends, who have brought upon themselves in recent times a craven collapse of Legislature, Judiciary, press and academia to the Executive President (as Churchill had seemed to predict), as well as of our Pakistani cousins who have continued with general political and civil collapse for half a century. Because our universities are all owned by the State, India’s academics, from Communist to Fascist, have tended to be servile towards it. In respect of the press, the power of independent newspapers has been dwindling, while the new TV anchors have created their own models of obsequiousness and chummery towards New Delhi’s ruling cliques of the day. It thus becomes India’s Supreme Court which remains the ultimate guardian of our Constitution and the safest haven of our very fragile freedoms — besides of course our own minds and hearts.

US Espionage Failures

US Espionage Failures

 

(There is a hippopotamus in the room)

 

First published in The Statesman Perspective Page under the title “Flunking inteligence” Oct 26 2005

by

Subroto Roy

 

There have been three or four enormous failures of American espionage (i.e. intelligence and counter-intelligence) in the last 20 years. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet communism were salubrious events but they had not been foreseen by the United States which was caught unawares by the speed and nature of the developments that took place. Other failures have been catastrophic.

 

First, there was the failure to prevent the attack that took place on the American mainland on September 11 2001. It killed several thousand civilians and caused vast, perhaps irreparable, psychological and physical destruction to the United States.

 

The attack was without precedent. The December 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, though a surprise, was carried out by one military against another military and did not affect very many civilians (except that thousands of American civilians of Japanese ancestry came to be persecuted and placed in concentration camps for years by the US Government). And the last time the American mainland had been attacked before 2001 was in 1814 when British troops marched south from Canada and burnt down the Capitol and the US President’s house in Washington.

 

Secondly, there has been a failure to discover any reasonable justification for the American-led attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation. Without any doubt, America has lost, at the very least, an incalculable amount of international goodwill as a result of this, let aside suffering two thousand young soldiers killed, fifteen thousand wounded, and an unending cost in terms of prestige and resources in return for the thinnest of tangible gains. India at great cost liberated East Pakistan from the brutal military tyranny of Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan in December 1971 but the average Bangladeshi today could hardly care less. Regardless of what form of government emerges in Iraq now, there is no doubt the mass of the Iraqi people will cheer the departure of the bulk of foreign troops and tanks from their country (even if a permanent set of a dozen hermetically sealed American bases remain there for ever, as appears to have been planned).

 

When things go wrong in any democracy, it is natural and healthy to set up a committee to investigate, and America has done that several times now. For such committees to have any use at all they must be as candid as possible and perhaps the most candid of the American committees has been the US Government’s 9/11 Commission. But it too has appeared no closer to finding out who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks or who financed it and who, precisely, executed it. Osama Bin Laden may have been the ideological head of a movement allied to the perpetrators, and Bin Laden undoubtedly expressed his glee afterwards, but it beggars the imagination that Bin Laden could have been executive president in charge of this operation while crawling around Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If not him, then whom? Mossad the Israeli spy agency was supposed to have pointed to a super-secret invisible Lebanese terrorist but nobody really knows. The biggest modern mass murder remains unsolved.

 

As for solutions, the American 9/11 Commission went into the same politically correct formulae that came to be followed in 2005 by British PM Tony Blair’s New Labour Cabinet, namely, that “moderate” peace-loving Muslims must be encouraged and bribed not to turn to terrorism (indeed to expose those among them who do), while “extremist” Muslims must be stamped out with brute force. This rests on a mistaken premise that an economic carrot-and-stick policy can work in creating a set of external incentives and disincentives for Muslims, when in fact believing Muslims, like many other religious believers, are people who feel the power of their religion deep within themselves and so are unlikely to be significantly affected by external incentives or disincentives offered by non-believers.

 

Another committee has been the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence which reported in July 2004, and from whose findings have stemmed as an offshoot the current matter about whether high government officials broke the law that is being investigated by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

 

Bertrand Russell said in his obituary of Ludwig Wittgenstein that he had once gone about looking under all the tables and chairs to prove to Wittgenstein that there was not a hippopotamus present in the room. In the present case, however, there is in fact a very large hippopotamus present in the room yet the entire American foreign policy establishment has seemed to refuse to wish to see it. Saddam Hussain and OBL are undoubtedly certifiable members of the international gallery of rogues – but the central fact remains they were rogues who were in alliance with America’s defined strategic interests in the 1980s. Saddam Hussain’s Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and gassed the Kurds in 1986; an Iraqi Mirage on May 17 1987 fired two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark killing 37 American sailors and injuring 21. The Americans did nothing. The reason was that Saddam was still in favour at the time and had not yet become a demon in the political mythology of the American state, and it was expedient for nothing to be done. Indeed Saddam’s Iraq was explicitly removed in 1982 from the US Government’s list of states sponsoring terrorism because, according to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, it had “moved closer to the policies of its moderate Arab neighbours”.

 

The very large hippopotamus that is present in the room at the moment is April Glaspie, the highly regarded professional career diplomat and American Ambassador to Iraq at the time of the 1990 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein as President had a famous meeting with her on July 25 1990, eight days before he invaded Kuwait. The place was the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and the Iraqis videotaped the meeting:

 

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – “I have direct instructions from President (George Herbert Walker) Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship – not confrontation – regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?

Saddam Hussein – As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.

U. S. Ambassador Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptable?

Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam’ s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)

 

Saddam had seen himself fighting Islamic Iran on behalf of the Kuwaitis, Saudis and other Arabs, and Islamic Iran was of course the sworn adversary of the USA at least since Khomeini had deposed America’s ally, the Shah. Therefore Saddam could not be all bad in the eyes of the State Department. On August 2 1990, the Iraqi troops seen by American satellites amassed on the border, invaded and occupied Kuwait.

On September 2 1990, the Iraqis released the videotape and transcript of the July 29 Saddam-Glaspie meeting and Glaspie was confronted by British journalists as she left the Embassy:

Journalist 1 – Are the transcripts (holding them up) correct, Madam Ambassador? (No answer from Glaspie)

Journalist 2 – You knew Saddam was going to invade (Kuwait ) but you didn’t warn him not to. You didn’t tell him America would defend Kuwait. You told him the opposite – that America was not associated with Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You encouraged this aggression – his invasion. What were you thinking?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You thought he was just going to take some of it? But, how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed , he would give up his Iran(Shatt al Arab waterway) goal for the whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be. You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as a historic part of their country!

 

Journalist 1 – America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay – that the U.S. would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumeilah oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands (including Bubiyan) – the territories claimed by Iraq?

 

Glaspie said nothing, the car door closed behind her, the car drove off. Nothing has been apparently heard from Glaspie ever since, and we may have to wait for her memoirs in 25 years when they are declassified to come to know what happened. It is astonishing, however, that the 521 page report of the US Senate’s Select Committee on espionage about Iraq before the 2003 war finds no cause whatsoever to mention Glaspie at all (at least in its public censored version). It is almost as if Glaspie has never existed and her conversation with Saddam never happened. Glaspie has disappeared down an Orwellian memory-hole. Yet her conversation with Saddam was the last official, recorded conversation between the Americans and Saddam while they were still on friendly terms.

 

There may be many causes explaining how such serious failures have come to occur in a country where billions of dollars have been annually spent on espionage. Among them must be that while America’s great strengths have included creation of the finest advanced scientific and technological base on earth, America’s great intellectual weaknesses in recent decades have included an impatience with historical and philosophical reflection of all sorts, and that includes reflection about her own as well as other cultures. This is exemplified too in the third palpable failure of intelligence of the last 20 years, which has been to have not foreseen or prevented atomic weapons from being developed by America and Britain’s Islamist ally and client-state, Pakistan, and thence to have failed to prevent the proliferation of such weapons in general. The consequences of that may yet turn out to be the most grave.

 

The Mitrokhin Archives II from an Indian Perspective: A Review Article

The Mitrokhin Archives II from an Indian Perspective: A Review Article

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Oct. 11 2005, Perspective Page

 

Vasili Mitrokhin’s defection from the former Soviet Union to Britain in 1992 caused a treasure-trove to reach MI-6 and the CIA and FBI, because he exposed many dozens of Soviet agents and their plots and intrigues around the world. But this fact that his material greatly helped Anglo-American counter-intelligence does not per se make it a source of accurate evidence with which a historian’s history book can be created. Rather, what this monumental and extremely informative volume amounts to being is a vast documentation, from an Anglo-American perspective, of what MI-6 and its allies have agreed to make public about what they now know of Soviet foreign policy and KGB practices, and of how Russian diplomacy and the KGB’s successors might function in the future.

 

That this is not a detached and disinterested history of intelligence is revealed by the three chapters on the subcontinent which have been causing a stir in India for the wrong reasons.

 

Everyone in the 1970s and through the 1980s knew of the tight grip around New Delhi’s policy-making circles of top bureaucrats, academics, journalists etc who were blatantly and incorrigibly pro-Soviet, some being active communists or fellow- travellers. Some of those complaining today know fully well that a cardinal implicit reason the CPI(M) broke from its parent party had to do precisely with Moscow’s control of the CPI. Moreover, while it might have been newsworthy when the KGB honey-trapped a senior diplomat or a junior cipher clerk in the Indian Embassy now and then, there were also hundreds of public sector bureaucrats, military personnel, journalists, technology professors, writers, artists, dancers et al who were treated most hospitably by the Soviet state – getting freebies flying to Soviet cities, being greeted by singing Young Pioneers, touring L’Hermitage with Intourist, receiving dollar honoraria and splendid gifts, sitting in on “technical training”, even receiving bogus Soviet doctoral degrees to allow themselves to be called “Dr” etc. Purchasing influence in New Delhi or any other capital city has never been merely a crude matter of cash-filled suitcases sloshing around in the middle of the night. Much of what Mitrokhin’s material says about the KGB’s penetration of India should, candidly speaking, generate but a desultory yawn from us –although even this book seems not to know that Narasimha Rao’s infamous, catastrophically damaging remarks in August 1991, in favour of the abortive KGB coup led by Kryuchkov against Gorbachev and Yeltsin, had been prompted by a staunchly pro-Soviet retired Indian diplomat at his side long-associated with the CPI.

 

Yes there are many titbits in this book that may be of interest from an Indian perspective — such as that Sanjay Gandhi’s entourage contained both a Soviet and an American mole in it (where are they now?). But what may be far more interesting to us today is what can be deduced from what Mitrokhin is silent about. For example, India and the Soviets were close allies in 1971 when Kissinger had teamed up with Yahya Khan and Bhutto to send Nixon to China. It is well known our Army Chief, General Maneckshaw, had demanded and received from Indira Gandhi and Jagjivan Ram enough time to prepare to go to war, and when Maneckshaw finally did move to liberate Bangladesh in December, it surprised Yahya and the Americans. Were the Soviets also quite surprised? If so, it would mean that although the Indian establishment was as porous as a sieve with respect to arms’ deals etc, on a matter of paramount national interest, namely, the just war on our own against Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan’s brutality in East Pakistan condoned by Nixon and Kissinger, India had kept her secrets secure. If, as seems likely, Indira Gandhi and her overtly communistic advisers had kept India’s war plans from not leaking to the KGB between March and December 1971, we may not have been in fact too badly compromised despite the widespread “shallow” penetration that occurred through corruption all around in the bureaucracy, academic institutions, media, political parties, etc.

 

Mitrokhin’s material describes this kind of shallow corrupt penetration that everyone knew was (and still remains) part of the lobbying process in Delhi. But there is no evidence in the book that the KGB knew of General Maneckshaw’s military preparations or plan of action until the lights went out in a blackout in Delhi on the night of December 2 1971 — that at least is something of which Indians may be slightly proud today. The same goes for the Pokhran nuclear tests. It is well known the CIA was caught by surprise by Pokhran-II in 1998; was the KGB caught by surprise by Pokhran-I in 1974? Probably so. Equally, the book says the KGB had at one point cracked Pakistani codes; did the Soviets share this information with India? Almost certainly not. Our Government’s chummery with the Soviets during the Cold War probably stopped well short of complete incest.

 

Unfortunately, many questions of interest to India or other countries have simply not been asked in the book. The Soviets (and Harold Wilson) had seemed to broker the India-Pakistan ceasefire in 1965, and Lal Bahadur Shastri died the day after he signed the Tashkent Declaration. What is the inside KGB information on that?

 

We do not know from this book. What do Soviet archives say about communist influence through the 1940s in Jammu & Kashmir (upon some of the very names who became Indira Gandhi’s inner circle later in Delhi)? Or about the uncritical adoption in the 1950s of Sovietesque economic models by the Planning Commission (and the suppression of Milton Friedman’s November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, as well as the tarnishing of BR Shenoy as a CIA agent)? The answers are not present in this book because these and analogous questions of interest to India or many other countries simply have not been asked. Mitrokhin’s material has been mined only from an Anglo-American point of view, and until it is thrown open completely to everyone, a detached and disinterested history of permanent and universal interest on the important matters it touches upon is not available.

 

Several factual and methodological problems result as a consequence, and these need to be identified for purposes of future progress in understanding. For example, the book speaks many times of the KGB having forged or fabricated documents around the world as a technique of spreading disinformation.

 

Doubtless this was standard operating procedure for intelligence agencies but it is left completely impossible for the average reader to come to any assessment whether a given document mentioned was genuine or forged.

 

Consider a case in Iran. The book states that in February 1958, the KGB “forged a letter from the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to his ambassador in Tehran belittling the Shah’s ability and implying that the United States was plotting his overthrow. The Teheran residency circulated copies of the letter to influential Iranian parliamentarians and editors in the confident expectation that one would come to the attention of the Shah – which it duly did. According to the KGB files on the operation, the Shah was completely taken in by the fabricated Dulles letter and personally instructed that a copy be sent to the US embassy with a demand for an explanation. Though the embassy dismissed it as a forgery, the Teheran residency reported that its denials were disbelieved. Dulles’s supposedly slighting references to the Shah were said to be a frequent topic of whispered conversation among the Iranian elite.” (p. 171)

 

It is impossible for anyone who has not seen this document or other supporting evidence to come to any assessment of what actually happened here. Matters are made worse by a note that says the KGB “claimed improbably that the Americans blamed the forgery not on the KGB but the British, who were said to be jealous of the strength of US influence in Iran”.

 

Was the document genuine or was it forged and if so by whom? If forged, must we believe the KGB was so astute in 1958 in its knowledge of American idiom that it could achieve the tremendous deception of mimicking the greatest of Cold Warriors writing to his own ambassador, enough to fool the Shah of Iran who had been placed in power by the very same Americans? No one can really tell unless the documents are opened up completely.

 

Another example is of more topical interest, and also reveals that this book must be seen as a contribution to a continuing (if friendly and academic) battle between rival intelligence agencies. Yevgeny Primakov, the former KGB chief and reformist Prime Minister (and Soviet Ambassador to India) is quoted as saying about the American help to the Pakistan-based guerrillas against the Soviets in Afghanistan: “the idea of deploying the Stingers (shoulder-held ground-to- air-missiles) was supplied by Osama bin Laden, who had been cooperating closely with the CIA at the time.” (Russian Crossroads, Yale University Press, 2004.)

 

Professor Andrew denies this flatly: “There is no support in the Mitrokhin material (or any other reliable source) for the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen. Most were funded through charities and mosques in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and were frequently viewed with suspicion by the Afghan mujahideen.” (p. 579)

 

It is obvious why this question is important: if Primakov is right and Andrew is wrong the Americans must be acutely embarrassed in having been allies or supporters or financiers not long ago of the very same Bin Laden who has now become their most bitter enemy. The United States Government’s “9/11 Commission” in 2004 made a much weaker statement than Professor Andrew: “Saudi Arabia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance was funnelled through Pakistan: the Pakistani military intelligence (ISID) helped train the rebels and distribute the arms. But Bin Laden and his associates had their own sources of support and training and they received little or no assistance from the United States…. In his memoirs, (Bin Laden’s deputy) Ayman al Zawahiri contemptuously rejects the claim that the Arab mujahideen were financed (even `one penny’) or trained by the United States… CIA officials involved in aiding the Afghan resistance regarded Bin Laden and his `Arab Afghans’ as having been militarily insignificant in the war and recall having little to do with him.”

 

Bin Laden was a callow youth when he got to Afghanistan shortly after the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Yet his contributions of funds, military effort and religious zealotry made him emerge age 33-34 as the “Emir” of Al Qaeda by the time the Soviets were compelled to withdraw in 1989, having suffered 14,500 dead. The Americans then began to lose interest in the region and in their Pakistani clients, and it was in that atmosphere that Pakistan decided to declare its independence in the world with its clandestine nuclear programme (never having felt part of the nationalist movement which led to Indian independence in 1947). It was in the same period that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda grew to become implacable and formidable enemies of the West, which culminated in the 9/11 mass murders in 2001. The claim that while the CIA certainly supported “Afghan” jihadists, it did not support Arab or African ones like Bin Laden and his friends is highly implausible. The New Yorker and Washington Post reported in 1986 the CIA supplying and training Hekmatyar’s “Hizbe-Islami” in the use of Stinger missiles to bring down Soviet aircraft. It is impossible to imagine the admittedly myopic American policy at the time included checking passports of these trainee- beneficiaries, saying “OK, you’re an Afghan resistance fighter you get a Stinger, you’re an Arab/African terrorist-of-the-future-who-may-attack-New York, you don’t”. Professor Andrew quotes positively the work on Bhutto of Raza Anwar, the Pakistani socialist, but he may have been unaware of Anwar’s The Tragedy of Afghanistan (Verso, 1988) where the precise nature of the American, Chinese and Arab support for the thousands of guerrillas in the dozens of camps in Zia’s Pakistan is quite fully and objectively documented. Foreign jihadists in Jammu & Kashmir came to be known as “Afghans” because they were veterans of the Afghan conflicts, not because they were Afghan nationals. Unlike Britain’s MI-6, the United States Government’s 9/11 Commission has made no bones about the connection between Bin Laden and the Pakistani ISI whose intent has been to attack India: “Pakistan’s rulers found these multitudes of ardent young `Afghans’ a source of potential trouble at home but potentially useful abroad. Those who joined the Taliban movement, espousing a ruthless version of Islamic law, perhaps could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally. They thus might give Pakistan greater security on one of the several borders where Pakistani military officers hoped for what they called `strategic depth’ (…. Pakistan’s need for a friendly, pliable neighbour on the west due to its hostile relationship with India on the east.)… It is unlikely that Bin Laden could have returned to Afghanistan (in 1996) had Pakistan disapproved. The Pakistani military intelligence service probably had advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used by diverse organisations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insurgencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir and Chechnya. Pakistani intelligence officers reportedly introduced Bin Laden to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and make them available for training of Kashmiri militants.”

 

Regardless of the fondness of the very strong lobby of British apologists (led by a former British High Commissioner to Pakistan) for the ISI and Pakistani Army, no detached history of modern intelligence in our part of the world can be written which whitewashes the misdeeds of Pakistan’s generals over several decades. Aside from what The Mitrokihn Archive II signifies about our region, there is a great amount of invaluable material on other parts of the world too, from Chile and Peru to Cuba and Nicaragua, to South Africa and Egypt and Israel, to China and Korea and Japan.

 

Indeed the keenest pages have to do with the internecine tensions between communists, like Castro and Gorbachev, or Khrushchev and Mao Zedong, in which no Anglo-American interests were involved. We in India have had our share of academic apologists and fellow travellers for totalitarian communist China, but the roots of the Sino-Soviet split have never come to be aired in Indian discussion. Professor Andrew is a leading member of the vitally important Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, whose website displays new and vitally important data from formerly communist countries (like Mongolia, Russia and East Germany) about how Chinese communists saw and felt about India, Pakistan, Tibet etc, which needs urgent attention from serious Indian observers. The Mitrokhin Archive II gives us a privileged glimpse of some of what happened: “The Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s brought to an acrimonious end the deference from the PRC which Stalin had taken for granted. The first public attack on Moscow was made by Mao’s veteran security chief, Kang Sheng, whose ferocious purges during Mao’s Great Leap Forward were largely modelled on techniques he had learned in Moscow during the Great Terror. On the Soviet side, the ideological dispute with China was compounded by personal loathing for Mao – the `Great Helmsman’ – and a more general dislike of the Chinese population as a whole, Khrushchev `repeatedly’ told a Romanian delegation shortly before his overthrow in 1964 that `Mao Zedong is sick, crazy, that he should be taken to an asylum, etc.” An assessment of Chinese national character circulated to KGB residencies by the Centre twelve years later claimed that the Chinese were `noted for their spitefulness’. What most outraged both the Kremlin and the Centre was Beijing’s impudence in setting itself up as a rival capital of world Communism, attempting to seduce other Communist parties from their rightful allegiance to the Soviet Union. Moscow blamed the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime… on the takeover of the Cambodian Communist Party by `an anti-popular, pro-Beijing clique’.

 

If nothing else, The Mitrokhin Archives II provides an honest opportunity for India’s Left to come clean with their frank and non-ideological opinions about Soviet, Chinese and other communist histories, and hence to candidly gain self-knowledge. Will they take it? Are there any George Orwells out there?

 

Kolkata, October 5 2005

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom (2004)

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism

by
Subroto Roy

PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London)

(A public lecture delivered as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham on August 24 2004, based on a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Manila, November 16 2001.)

I am most grateful to the University of Buckingham for allowing me to refresh and carry forward my research these last several months. For some 25 years I have been learning of and reflecting upon the work of two great modern British philosophers, John Wisdom (1904-1993) and Renford Bambrough (1926-1999). In the 1980s in America, I came to apply their thinking in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), a book which got me into a lot of trouble there. Returning to Britain in 2004, I am dismayed to find their work almost forgotten or unknown today, even at the Ancient University that had been their home. “Orientalists” from the West once used to comprehend and highlight the achievements of the East for the peoples of the East who were unaware of them; I am happy to return the favour by becoming an “Occidentalist” in highlighting a little of the work of two of Britain’s finest sons of which she has become unaware. Wisdom and Bambrough played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to the Socrates played by Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the knowledge they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us to use and apply to our own problems make them, in terms of Eastern philosophy, rather like the “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. I do not expect anyone to share such an extravagant view, and will be more than satisfied if I am able to suggest that we can have a grasp of the nature and scope of human reasoning thanks to their work which may help resolve the most intractable and seemingly irreconcilable of all current international problems, namely the grave cultural conflicts made apparent since September 11 2001.

2. The September 11 attacks aimed to cripple one of the world’s largest and most important countries in a new kind of act of war. The perpetrators apparently saw themselves — subjectively in their own minds — acting in the name of one of the world’s largest and most important religions. Since the attacks, the world has become an unusually bewildering place, as if notions of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law have been proven a lie overnight, as if virtues like patience, common reasoning and good humour have all become irrelevant, deserving to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. The attackers and their friends taunt the West saying their love of death is greater and more powerful than the West’s love of life; the taunts and the counter-taunts of their powerful adversaries have had the effect of spraying panic, mutual fear, hatred or destruction across the surface of everyday life everywhere, so we now have bizarre scenes of people taking off their shoes and clothes and putting them on again while travelling, and of the British public being advised on how to cope with nerve gas attacks when they might have much rather been watching “reality TV” instead. An Age of Unreason appears upon us.

The very simple proposition I put forward here is this: there are, indeed there cannot be, any conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. To put it differently, the logical scope of common reasoning is indefinite and limitless. There is no question to which there is not a right answer. If I was asked to answer in one sentence what has been the combined contribution to human thought of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough, indeed of modern British philosophy as a whole, I would say it has been the proof that there are no unanswerable questions, that there is no question to which there is not a right answer.
By “common reasoning” I shall mean merely to refer to the structure of any conversation well-enough described by F. R. Leavis’s operators in literary criticism:

“This is so, isn’t it?,

Yes, but….”.

My “yes” to your “This is so, isn’t it?” indicates agreement with what you have said while my “but…” tells you I believe there may be something more to the matter, some further logical relation to be found, some further fact to be investigated or experiment carried out, some further reflection necessary and possible upon already known and agreed upon facts. It amounts to a new “This is so, isn’t it?” to which you may respond with your own, “Yes, but…”; and our argument would continue. Another set of operators is:

“You might as well say…”;

“Exactly so”;

“But this is different…”

This was how Wisdom encapsulated the “case-by-case” method of argument that he pioneered and practised. It requires intimate description of particular cases and marking of similarities and differences between them, yielding a powerful indefinitely productive method of objective reasoning, distinct from and logically prior to the usual methods of deduction and induction that exhaust the range of positivism. We are able to see how common reasoning may proceed in practice in subtle fields like law, psychology, politics, ethics, aesthetics and theology, just as objectively as it does in natural science and mathematics. Wittgenstein had spoken of our “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”. Wisdom formalised the epistemological priority of particular over general saying: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.” And “Argument must be heard”.

In all conflicts – whether within a given science, between different sciences, between sciences and religion, within a given religion, between different religions, between sciences and arts, within the arts, between religion and the arts, between quarrelling nations, quarrelling neighbours or quarrelling spouses, whether in real relationships of actual life or hypothetical relationships of literature and drama – an approach of this kind tells us there is something further that may be said, some improvement that can be carried out, some further scope for investigation or experiment allowing discovery of new facts, some further reflection necessary or possible upon known facts. There are no conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. Where the suicide-bombers and their powerful adversaries invite us to share their hasty and erroneous assumption that religious, political or economic cultures are becoming irreconcilable and doomed to be fights unto death, we may give to them instead John Wisdom’s “Argument must be heard.”

Parties to this or any conflict may in fact fail to find in themselves enough patience, tolerance, good humour, courage to take an argument where it leads, or they may fail to find enough of these qualities in adequate time, as Quesnay and the Physiocrats failed to find solutions in adequate time and were swept away by the French Revolution. But the failures of our practical human powers and capabilities do not signal that the logical boundaries of the scope of reason have been reached or even approached or come to be sighted.

3. The current conflict is said to be rooted in differences between religious cultures. We may however wish to first address whether any religious belief or practice can survive the devastating onslaught of natural science, the common modern adversary of all religions. What constitutes a living organism? What is the difference between plants and animals? What is the structure of a benzene ring or carbon atom or subatomic particle? What is light? Sound? Gravity? What can be said about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin here and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions about the world and Universe and our place in it have been asked and answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, from primitive tribes in hidden forests to sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time. Once we have accounted for all that modern science has to say, can any reasonable explanation or justification remain to be given of any religious belief or practice from any time or place?

Bambrough constructed this example. Suppose we are walking on the shore of a stormy sea along with Homer, the ancient Greek poet, who has been restored to us thanks to a time machine. We are walking along when Homer looks at the rough sea and says, “Poseidon is angry today”. We look at the waves loudly hitting the rocks and nod in agreement saying, “Yes, Poseidon is angry today”. We may be using the same words as Homer but Homer’s understanding of and expectations about the words “Poseidon is angry today” and our understanding of and expectations about the same words would be utterly different, a difference moreover we are able to understand but he may not. To us with our modern meteorology and oceanography, and the results of the television cameras of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough, we know for a fact there is no god-like supernatural being called Poseidon living within the ocean whose moods affect the waves. But to Homer, Poseidon not only exists in the ocean but also leaves footprints and descendants on the land, when Poseidon is angry the sea is vicious, when Poseidon is calm the seas are peaceful. We use the words “Poseidon is angry today” as an accurate description of the mood of an angry sea; Homer uses the same words to mean there was a god-like supernatural being inside the ocean whose anger was being reflected in the anger of the waves.

My second story is from 7th century AD located here in Buckingham, from a spot a few hundred yards behind the Economics Department of the University where there is St Rumbwald’s Well. In 650 AD — just a short while after The Recital of the Prophet of Islam (570-632AD) had been written down as The Q’uran, and just a little while before the Chinese pilgrim I-Ching (635-713AD) would be travelling through India recording his observations about Buddhism – here 12 miles from Buckingham was born the babe known as Rumwold or Rumbwald. England was hardly Christian at the time and the first Archbishop of Canterbury had been recently sent by the Pope to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Rumbwald’s father was a pagan prince of Northumbria; his mother the Christian daughter of the King of Mercia. St Rumbwald of Buckingham or Brackley is today the patron saint of fishermen at Folkestone, and he has been historically revered at monasteries in Mercia, Wessex and distant Sweden. Churches have been dedicated to him in Kent,Essex, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Dorset and North Yorkshire. Pilgrims have washed themselves at St Rumwald’s Well over centuries and it is said Buckingham’s inns originated in catering to them. What is the legend of St Rumbwald? It is that on the day he was born he declared three times in a loud voice the words “I am a Christian, I am a Christian, I am a Christian”. After he had been baptised, he, on the second day of his life, was able to preach a sermon on the Trinity and the need for virtuous living, and foretold his imminent death, saying where he wished to be buried. On the third day of his life he died and was buried accordingly.

When we hear this story today, we might smile, wishing newborn babes we have known waking up in the middle of the night might be more coherent too. Professor John Clarke has shown Catholic hagiography over the centuries has also registered deep doubts about the Rumbwald story. We might be tempted to say the whole thing is complete nonsense. If a modern person took it at face value, we would look on it sympathetically. We know for a fact it is impossible, untrue, there has to be some error.

At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science where they try to compete on science’s home grounds, which are the natural or physical world. If a religious belief requires that a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth to make Night and Day, that the Earth is flat and the sky is a ceiling which may be made to fall down upon it by Heavenly Wrath, that the rains will be on time if you offer a prayer or a sacrifice, it is destined to be falsified by experience. Natural science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries; all the major religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.Yet even a slight alteration of the St Rumbwald story can make it plausible to modern ears. Just the other day Radio 4 had a programme on child prodigies who were able to speak words and begin to master language at age of one or two. It is not impossible a child prodigy of the 7th Century AD in his first or second year of life spoke the words “I’m a Christian”, or that as a toddler with a devout Christian mother, he said something or other about the Holy Trinity or about virtue or that he wished to be buried in such and such place even if he had had no real understanding of what he was talking about. If such a prodigious infant of royal blood then died from illness, we can imagine the grief of those around him, and how word about him might spread through a countryside in an era 1200 years before the discovery of electricity and invention of telecommunications, and for that information to become garbled enough to form the basis of the legend of St Rumbwald through the centuries.

The Rumbwald story is a typical religious story that has its parallels in other times and places including our own. It is impossible for it to have been factually true in the way it has come down to us, but it is completely possible for us with our better knowledge of facts and science today to reasonably explain its power over the beliefs of many generations of people. And if we are able to reasonably explain why people of a given time and place may have believed or practised what they did, we have not reason to be disdainful or scornful of them. The mere fact such religious stories, beliefs, experiences and practices of human beings over several thousand years across the globe have been expressed in widely different and far from well-translated or well-understood languages – Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Samoan, Apache, Kwa Zulu, Hausa, Swahili – let aside English, Arabic, Yiddish or a thousand others, provides more than ample explanation of how miscomprehension and misapprehension can arise and continue, of how a vast amount of mutual contempt and scorn between peoples of different cultures is able to be irrationally sustained. The scope for the reasonable “demythologisation” of all these stories in all these languages from all these religions, in the way we have sought to “demythologise” the Rumbwald story here obviously remains immense and indefinite.

Next consider religious practice in the modern world, and the universal act of praying. (Economists have not seemed to look much at this before though a lot of mankind’s energy and resources are rationally spent towards it every day across the world.) Some weeks ago, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, Lady Soames, the daughter of Churchill, recalled the incredible fear and tension and uncertainty felt during the buildup to the invasion of Normandy; she said that when she finally heard the roar of the aeroplanes as they started across the English Channel: “I fell to my knees and prayed as I’d never prayed before or since” (BBC 1 June 6 2004, 8.40 am). A policeman’s wife in Costa Rica in Central America is shown making the sign of the cross upon her husband before he goes to work in the morning into a crime-ridden area from which he might not return safely at the end of the day. Footballers and boxers and opening batsmen around the world say a prayer before entering the field of contest. So do stockbrokers, foreign exchange dealers, businessmen, job-candidates and students taking examinations, and of course hospital-patients entering operating theatres. Before a penalty shootout between England and Portugal or Holland and Sweden, many thousands of logically contradictory prayers went up.

All this praying is done without a second thought about the ultimate ontological character of the destination of such prayers, or even whether such a destination happens or happens not to exist at all. The universal ubiquitous act of praying might be a rational human response to fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, and despair, as also to unexpected joy or excessive happiness.

Blake said: “Excess of joy, weeps, Excess of sorrow, laughs”. When there is excess of sorrow or excess of joy, praying may contribute mental resources like courage, tranquillity and equanimity and so tend to restore emotional equilibrium in face of sudden trauma or excitement. A provisional conclusion we may then register is that religious beliefs and practices of people around the world are open to be reasonably comprehended and explained in these sorts of straightforward ways, and at the same time there is a good sense in which progress in religious understanding is possible and necessary to be made following growth and improvement of our factual understanding of the world and Universe in which we live.

We still speak of the Sun “rising in the East” and “setting in the West” despite knowing since Copernicus and Galileo and the testimony of Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong that the Sun has in fact never done any such thing. Our understanding of the same words has changed fundamentally. Tycho Brahe thought the Sun went around Earth; his disciple Kepler the opposite; when Tycho Brahe looked East at dawn he understood something different from (and inferior to) what Kepler understood when Kepler looked East at dawn. It is similar to Homer and us with respect to whether Poseidon’s moods affect the waves of the sea. Examples of traditional religious belief and understanding may get modified by our scientific knowledge and understanding such that the same words may mean something quite different as a result and have a new significance for our consciousness.

Indeed it extends well beyond natural science to our understanding of literature, art and psychology as well. With the knowledge we have gained of ourselves — of our conscious waking minds as well as of our unconscious dreaming minds — after we have read and tried to grasp Blake, Goethe, Dostoevsky or Freud, we may quite well realise and comprehend how the thoughts and feelings residing in the constitutions of actual beings, including ourselves, are more than enough to describe and explain good and evil, and without having to refer to any beings outside ourselves residing elsewhere other than Earth. It is like the kind of progress we make in our personal religious beliefs from what we had first learned in childhood. We do not expect a person after he or she has experienced the ups and downs of adult life to keep to exactly the same religious beliefs and practises he or she had as a child at mother’s knee, and we do not expect mankind to have the same religious beliefs today as it did in its early history.

Bambrough concluded: “There is no incompatibility between a refurbished demythologised Homeric polytheism, a refurbished demythologised Christianity, and a refurbished demythologised Islam…. The Creation and the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Virgin Birth…may be very differently conceived without being differently expressed….we can still learn from the plays and poems of the ancient Greeks, although we reject the basis of the mythological structure through which they express their insight and their understanding. The myths continue to teach us something because they are attached to, and grounded in, an experience that we share. It would therefore be astonishing if the Christian religion, whether when considered as a united and comprehensive body of doctrine it is true or false, did not contain much knowledge and truth, much understanding and insight, that remain valuable and accessible even to those who reject its doctrinal foundations. In and through Christianity the thinkers and writers and painters and moralists of two thousand years have struggled to make sense of life and the world and men…. What is more, the life that they wrestled with is our life; the world they have portrayed is the world that we live in; the men that they were striving to understand are ourselves.”

Bambrough was addressing Church of England clergy forty years ago but in his reference to a refurbished demythologised Islam he might as well have been addressing Muslim clergy today — indeed his findings are quite general and apply to other theists as well as to atheists, and provide an objective basis for the justification of tolerance.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam each starts with a “religious singularity”, a single alleged moment in the history of human beings when a transcendental encounter is believed to have occurred: the Exodus of God’s Chosen People led by Moses; the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of God’s Only Son, Jesus Christ; the Revelation of God’s Book to His Messenger, Muhammad, Peace Be Unto Him, the Seal of the Prophets. Each speaks of a transcendental Creator, of just rewards and punishments awaiting us in a transcendental eternal life after mortal earthly death.

A different fork in the road says, however, that the wind blowing in the trees may be merely the wind blowing in the trees, nothing more; it is the path taken by Buddhism and Jainism, which deny the existence of any Creator who is to be owed our belief or reverence. It is also the path taken by Sigmund Freud the ultra-scientific rationalist of modern times: “It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending…. it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished, but it happens often enough that the violent, the crafty and the unprincipled seize the desirable goods of the earth, while the pious go empty away. Dark, unfeeling and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which, according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence.”

We then seem to have a choice between a Universe Created or Uncreated, Something and Nothing, One and Zero, God and No God. Pascal said we have to bet on the Something not on the Nothing, bet on the One not on the Zero, bet on God being there rather than not being there. Pascal’s reasoning was clear and forms the basis of “decision theory” today: if you bet on God’s existence and God does not exist, you lose nothing; if you bet on God’s lack of existence and God exists, you’ve had it. The philosophies of my own country, India, speak of Zero and One, Nothing or Something, and almost leave it at that. Perhaps we know, or perhaps we do not says the Rg Veda’s Hymn of Creation.. Does our self-knowledge end with our mortal death or perhaps begin with it? Or perhaps just as there is an infinite continuum of numbers between 0 and 1, there is also an infinite continuum of steps on a staircase between a belief in Nothing and a belief in Something, between the atheism of Freud and the Buddhists and the theism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Generalising Bambrough’s findings, it would be surprising if we did not find each and every religion, whether theistic or atheistic, to contain some knowledge and truth, some understanding and insight, that remains valuable and accessible even to those who may otherwise reject the doctrinal foundations of any or all of them. In and through the religions, the thinkers, writers, painters, poets, sculptors and artists of thousands of years have struggled to make sense of our life and the world that we live in; the men and women they were striving to understand are ourselves.

4. Just after the September 11 attacks, I said in the Philippines that the perpetrators of the attacks would have been surprised to know of the respect with which the religious experience of the Prophet of Islam had been treated by the 19th Century British historian Thomas Carlyle: “The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” Carlyle told stories of Mohammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, he had denied her: “She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!” Carlyle’s choice of stories suggested the simple humanity and humility of Mohammad’s life and example, even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (”a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in the message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.

In general, the words and deeds of a spiritual leader of mankind like that of secular or scientific leaders like Darwin, Einstein, Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights attach upon their legacies, rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, politics is too important to be left to the politicians, economics is definitely too important to be left to the economists; even science may be too important to be left to the scientists — certainly also, the religions are far too important to be left to the religious.

Yet Mr Osama Bin Laden and his friends, followers and potential followers, indeed any believing Muslims, are unlikely to be impressed with any amount of “external” praise heaped on Islam by a Carlyle or a Goethe, let aside by a President Bush or Prime Minister Blair. They may be wary of outsiders who bring so much praise of Islam, and will tell them instead “If you like Islam as much as you say you do, why not convert? It’s so easy. You have merely to say ‘God is One and Mohammad is the Seal of the Prophets’ – that’s all, you are Muslim, God is Great”.

Indeed Mr Bin Laden and friends are unlikely to be impressed with any kind of economic or carrot-and-stick policy of counter-terrorism, where incentives and disincentives are created by Western authorities like the US 9/11 Commission or the Blair Cabinet telling them: “If you are ‘moderate’ in your thoughts, words and deed you will earn this, this and this as rewards from the Government, but if you are ‘extremist’ in your thoughts, words and deeds then you shall receive that, that and that as penalties from the Government. These are your carrots and here is the stick.” It is Skinnerian behavioural psychology gone overboard. The incentives mean nothing, and the disincentives, well, they would merely have to be more careful not to end up in the modern Gulags.

We could turn from carrot-and-stick to a more sophisticated mode of negative rhetoric instead. If a doctrine C, declares itself to be resting upon prior doctrines B and A, then C’s reliability and soundness comes to depend on the reliability and soundness of B and A. If Islam declares itself to depend on references to a historical Moses or a historical Jesus, and if the last word has not been spoken by Jews, Christians, sceptics or others about the historical Moses or the historical Jesus, then the last word cannot have been spoken about something on which Islam declares itself to depend.

We can be more forceful too. Suicide-bombers combine the most sordid common crimes of theft and murder with the rare act of suicide as political protest. Suicide as political protest is a dignified and noble and awesome thing – many may remember the awful dignity in the sight of the Buddhist monks and nuns of South Vietnam immolating themselves in 1963 in protest against religious persecution by Diem’s Catholic regime, which led to the start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Socrates himself was forced to commit suicide for political reasons, abiding by his own injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong oneself than to come to wrong others — suicide as political protest is not something invented recently. And certainly not by Bin Laden and friends, whose greed makes their intentions and actions merely ghastly lacking all dignity: they are not satisfied like the Buddhist monks or like Jan Palach with political protest of their own suicides by self-immolation; they must add the sordid cruelty that goes with the very ordinary crimes of theft and mass murder as well.

Yet this kind of negative rhetorical attack too may not cut much ice with Mr Bin Laden and his friends. Just as they will dismiss our praise for Islam as being a suspicious trick, they will dismiss our criticism as the expected animus of an enemy.

To convict Mr Bin Laden of unreason, of contradicting himself, of holding contrary propositions x and ~x simultaneously and so talking meaninglessly and incoherently, we will have to bring out our heaviest artillery, namely, The Holy Q’uran itself, the Recital of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). We may have to show explicitly how Mr Bin Laden’s own words contradict what is in The Q’uran. He and his followers would then be guilty of maintaining x and its contrary ~x at the same time, of violating the most basic law of logical reasoning, the law of excluded middle, of contradicting themselves, and therefore of speaking meaninglessly, incoherently, nonsensically regardless of their language, culture, nationality or religion. The Q’uran is a grand document and anyone reading it must be prepared to either considering believing it or having powerful enough reasons not to do so. “The great Mystery of Existence”, Carlyle said, “glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Certainly, as in many other religions, the believers and unbelievers are distinguished numerous times in the Prophet’s Recital; believers are promised a Paradise of wine and many luxuries, while unbelievers are promised hell-fire and many other deprivations. But who are these unbelievers? They are the immediate local adversaries of the Prophet, the pagans of Mecca, the hanifs, the local tribes and sceptics arrayed against the Prophet. It is crystal clear that these are the people being named as unbelievers in The Q’uran, and there is absolutely no explicit or implicit mention or reference in it to peoples of other places or other times. There is no mention whatsoever of Anglo-Saxons or Celts, Vikings, Goths, or Gauls, of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Confucians or Shintos, no mention of Aztecs, Incas, or Eskimos. There is no mention of any peoples of any other places or of any later times. Certainly there is no mention of the people of modern America or Israel or Palestine or Britain or India. Yet Mr Bin Laden evidently sent an email to the head of the Taliban on October 3 2001, in which he referred to “defending Islam and in standing up to the symbols of infidelity of this time” (Atlantic Monthly, Sep. 2004). We are then able to say to him or any of his friends: “Tell us, Sir, when you declare a war between believers and unbelievers in the name of Islam, whom do you mean to refer to as “unbelievers”? Do you mean to refer to every person in history who has not been a Muslim, even those who may have been ignorant of Islam and its Prophet? Or do you mean to refer to the opponents and enemies the Prophet actually happened to encounter in his struggles during his mission as a proselytiser, i.e., the Arabic idolaters of Mecca, the hanifs and Qureshis, this local Jewish tribe or that local Christian or pagan tribe against whom the early Muslim believers had to battle strenuously and heroically in order to survive? If it is these local enemies of the Prophet and his early disciples whom you mean to refer to as “unbelievers” destined for Hell’s fires, there is textual evidence in The Recital to support you. But if you mean by “unbelievers” an arbitrary assortment of people across all space and all time, you are challenged to show the verses that give you this authority because there are none. Certainly you may have military or political reasons for wishing to engage in conflict with A or B or C — because you feel affronted or violated by their actions — but these would be normal secular reasons open to normal discourse and resolution including the normal laws of war as known by all nations and all peoples. There may be normal moral arguments to be made by radical Muslims against the US Government or against the Israeli Government or the British or Indian or some other Government — but there are no generalised justifications possible from within The Q’uran itself against these modern political entities. We should expose Mr Bin Laden and his friends’ lack of reason in both maintaining that Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, and also maintaining that they can extrapolate from The Q’uran something that is not in The Q’uran. The Q’uran speaks of no unbelievers or enemies of the Prophet or the early Muslims who are not their local enemies in that time and place.

Pritchard, the distinguished Oxford philosopher, once wrote an article called “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” We today may have to ask a similar question “Does Islamist Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?”

5. If all this so far has seemed too clinical and aseptic in approaching the mystical matters of the spirit, I hasten to add finally that a decisive counterattack upon natural science may be made by both religion and art together. Our small planet is a satellite of an unexceptional star in an unexceptional galaxy yet we are still the centre of the Universe in that it is only here, as far as any of us knows, that such things as reason, intelligence and consciousness have come to exist. (Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.) We alone have had an ability to understand ourselves and be conscious of our own existence — the great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive but none of them can do the same. What responsibility arises for us (or devolves upon us) because of this? That is the perfectly good question asked by art and religion on which science remains silent. Life has existed for x million years and will be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility falls on those beings, ourselves, who have the consciousness to ask this. Religion and art cannot battle and win on science’s home ground but they can and do win where science has nothing left to say.

That is what DH Lawrence meant when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Other artists would say the same. Art expresses life, and human cultures can be fresh and vigorous or decadent and redolent of death. The culture that evaluates its own art and encourages new shoots of creativity will be one with a vibrant life; the culture that cannot will be vulnerable to a merger or takeover. There is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish, and this vitally demands freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course that might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and so the enterprise of truth seeking requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished. Leavis spoke of the need for an educated public if there was not to be a collapse of standards in the arts, since it was only individual candour that could expose shallow but dominant coteries.

Freedom is logically necessary to keep all potential avenues to the truth open, and freedom of belief and experience and the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing everyone is to unravel to the extent we can the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of the ontological questions is so vast it is only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources of faith, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise, and this may explain too why a few always try to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes. A flourishing culture advances in its science, its artistic creativity and its spiritual or philosophical consciousness. It would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artefacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one that possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language.

The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis, but rather signalled a collapse of the old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, and at the same time expressed an incoherent cry of stifled people trying to return to an austere faith of the desert. Information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years yet our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may have grossly deteriorated in quality. Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in my opinion, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those of Asia and elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner. To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

Hannah Arendt’s “Truth and Politics”: Contemporary Relevance

Subroto Roy hears Mr Blair’s testimony to the Iraq War Inquiry and recalls Hannah Arendt’s profound distinction in “Truth and Politics” between the mere liar and the fully self-deceived — the liar tells the lie but at least knows the truth himself; the self-deceived tells the lie to himself as much as to others and believes it too and so the truth is hopelessly lost to him.

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism (2001)

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism with Special Reference to September 11

Subroto Roy

This was a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats meeting on November 16 2001, Manila, Philippines, and was published in Singapore in 2002, Alan Smith, James Gomez & Uwe Johannen (Eds.) September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives. It was republished in the West on January 26 2004 on the University of Buckingham website, when the author was Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics there. It came to be followed a few months later by a public lecture at the University, titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism” which has also been published here.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
5. September 11: the Collapse of the Global Conversation
6. Envoi

Synopsis: The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in the face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. One aim of this essay is to show this would be too hasty an assessment; another is to provide a general theory of “globalization”, a notion which often has seemed lost for meaning.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
The perpetrators of September 11 subjectively acted in the name of Islam. It would have surprised them to know of the great respect with which the religious experience of Prophet Muhammad (572-632 AD) had been treated in the English language by Carlyle in 1842:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” 1

Carlyle told the story of Muhammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, Muhammad had denied her:

“She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

Carlyle suggested the simple humanity and humility of Muhammad’s life and example, and even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (“a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). He quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in Muhammad’s message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.
In general, the life or words of a spiritual leader of mankind like Muhammad, Christ, or Buddha, as indeed of discoverers of the physical world like Darwin or Einstein, or explorers of secular human nature like Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights may be attached upon their legacies, but rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone.

A second example is more proximate. It is of M. K. Gandhi the Indian sitting in South Africa reflecting on the Christian ideas of Thoreau the American and Tolstoy the Russian, synthesizing these with Hindu-Jain notions of “ahimsa” or “non-hatred” into a technique of political action to be applied eventually to end British rule in India; then transferred a decade after Gandhi’s assassination to the U. S. Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and later, after King’s assassination, back to Nelson Mandela languishing in prison, who ends apartheid and brings in its place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa.2
Construing globalization to mean merely Westernization of the East has been a commonplace error, leading to a narrow cramped perspective and reflecting ignorance of both East and West. There are countless examples of the Easternization of the West including the exportation of Judaism and Christianity, and of Indian and Arab mathematics and astronomy in the Middle Ages. There have been and will be countless cross-fertilizations between East and West, let aside the subtle influences of Africa and other cultures and continents on art, music, dance, sports and beliefs around the world. In general, whenever an idea, practice, institution or artifact transmits itself from its origin elsewhere, we have a little piece of globalization taking place. The speed and volume of such transmissions may have vastly increased in recent decades thanks to the growth of modern transport and communications but that is not to say some of the most important transmissions have not already taken place or may not yet take place. Ours like every generation may be biased in favour of its own importance.

2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
Global transmissions can be as soft and salubrious as Americans learning to enjoy football which is not American football. But they can be grim and desperate too — like the transfer of “suicide bombing” techniques from Sri Lanka’s civil war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; or the idea of schoolboys firing automatic weapons germinating from A Clockwork Orange to actuality thirty years later in an American or a German school.

In fact the Thoreau-Tolstoy-Gandhi techniques of civil disobedience or a hunger-strike inflicting pain or sacrifice on oneself to show an adversary his folly, slide naturally to a limit of suicide as political protest — as when the Buddhist Superior Thich Quang Duc, protesting religious persecution by Diem’s regime in South Vietnam, immolated himself on June 2 1963, soon to be followed by other Buddhist monks and nuns, leading to the end of the Diem regime and start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Suicide as political protest still abides by the Socratic injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong than to wrong others.3

Terrorism by suicide killing crosses that line — over into a world of utilitarian calculation on the part of the perpetrator that his or her suicide as political protest would be inadequate, and must be accompanied by causing death among the perceived adversary as well.

Gandhi, King and Mandela each had conservative, accommodative currents on one side, as well as radical dissident or parallel terrorist offshoots on the other, and we will return to ask why no non-violent political movement seems identifiable of which September 11 was the violent terrorist offshoot.

Where political protest is absent from the motivation, and killing the adversary becomes the aim with suicide merely the means, as with Japan’s kamikaze pilots, we have passed into a realm of international war between organized authorities in contrast with mere terrorism against some organized authority. A suicide-killer may of course subjectively believe himself/herself to be making a political protest though his/her principals may see him/her as an instrument of war.

Also, if it is correct to distinguish between kamikaze pilots and the perpetrators of September 11 by absence and presence of political protest in their motivation, terrorism typically arises as rebellion against some organized authority, and is to be contrasted precisely with war between organized authorities. “State terrorism” can then only refer to an organized authority being repressive to the point of using its power to cause terror, physical or mental, upon a people or individuals under its control. “State-sponsored” terrorism would be something else again, where an organized authority assists a terroristic rebellion against some other organized authority, amounting effectively to an undeclared international war.4

3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
The question arises whether anything in human nature or society may be identified to help analyse, explain or predict the myriad transmissions of globalization taking place, whether salubrious or not. If such a theory claims to be “general”, it will need to be wide enough to try to explain the motivation for modern terrorism and September 11 2001 in particular.

We could start with the observable fact there is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish. This process of common reasoning and reflection vitally requires freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course which might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and the enterprise of truth-seeking thus requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished.

A flourishing society may be viewed as one advancing in its scientific knowledge, its artistic achievements, and its religious or philosophical consciousness. Each of these dimensions needs to be in appropriate balance in relation to the others during the process of social and economic growth, and each has a necessity for its own aspect of freedom.

Science is our public knowledge regardless of culture or nationality gained of ourselves as members of the world and the Universe, and has been the most important common adversary of all religions. Who or what is homo sapiens relative to other living species? What is the difference between plants and animals? What constitutes a living organism? What is the structure of a benzene ring or a carbon atom or any atom or subatomic particle? What is light, sound, gravity? What can we say about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin on Earth and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in the Universe in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions have been asked and attempted to be answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, whether they are primitive tribes in hidden forests or sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time.
At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science wherever they try to compete on science’s home grounds, namely, the natural or physical world. If a religious belief happens to imply a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth, that if you offer a sacrifice the rains will be on time, then it is destined to be falsified by experience. Science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries, while the religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on the laws of scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.
With the enormous growth of science, some scientists have gone to the limit of declaring no religious belief can possibly survive — that we are after all made up of dust and atoms alone, that there is no real difference between a mechanical talking doll and a gurgling baby who has just discovered her hands and feet.

Yet reasonable religious belief, action and experience does exist and may need to make its presence felt. Religion may not battle science and expect to win on science’s home ground but can and does win where science has nothing and can have nothing to say. It has been reasonable everywhere for men or women faced with death or personal tragedy to turn to religion for strength, courage or comfort. Such would be a point where religion offers something to life on which science has nothing of interest to say. These include the ultimate questions of life or death or the “Mystery of Existence” itself, in Carlyle’s term.

In fact the ultra-scientific prejudice fails ultimately to be reasonable enough, and is open to a joint and decisive counter-attack by both the religious believer and the artist. Modern science has well established that our small planet orbits an unexceptional member of an unexceptional galaxy. Copernicus by this started the era of modern science and began the end of the grip on Western culture of astrology, which was based on a geocentric Ptolomaic worldview (many Asian cultures like India and perhaps China still remain in that grip).

Yet the pre-modern geocentrism contained a subtle truth which has formed the foundation of both art and religion: to the best of scientific knowledge to this day, Earth is the centre of the Universe inasmuch as it is only here that reason and intelligence and consciousness have come to exist, that there is such a thing as the power to think and the power to love.5

We are, as far as anyone knows, quite alone in having the ability to understand ourselves and to be conscious of our own existence. The great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive, but none of them is aware of its own existence or capable of the thought or love of any human baby or for that matter the commonest street dog.

What responsibility arises for human beings because of the existence of this consciousness? That is the common and reasonable question addressed by both religion and art, on which science is and must remain silent. We may come to know through science that life has existed for x million years and is likely to be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility devolves on those beings, namely ourselves, who have consciousness and reason to comprehend their own existence in the Universe.
D. H. Lawrence meant to raise this when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Great painters, composers, or other artists can be imagined saying something similar. Art is the expression of life, and human cultures, like plants, may be fresh and vigourous with life or decadent and doomed to death. The society which both recognizes and comprehends its own artistic traditions through reasonable evaluation while encouraging new shoots of artistic creativity, will be one with a vibrant cultural life; the society incapable of evaluating its own art self- critically enough will be likely also to kill new creativity from within itself, and become vulnerable to a merger or takeover.

Science, religion and art each vitally requires freedom in order to thrive. In art, the function of reason arises in critical evaluation of literature, paintings, cinema, drama, music, dance, architecture and other aspects of aesthetics. Swimming against a full tide of majority opinion here often may be the right thing to do. The critic F. R. Leavis spoke of the importance of there being an educated public to maintain serious cultural standards; he meant that the freedom to be vigourously critical, often against shallow entrenched coterie opinions, may be the only safeguard preventing artistic or cultural standards from collapse. In science, the activity of reasoning whether in public with one another or privately within oneself, dispels scientific illusions (like astrology) and so enlarges the area occupied by a common empirical understanding. Freedom is logically necessary here to keep potential avenues towards the truth open; it extends also to protecting through tolerance those factual beliefs which may be manifestly false — it may be a crime to steal or commit murder but it is not a crime to hold erroneous factual beliefs about the world as such (e.g. astrology is wrong because Copernicus is right, but it would be illiberal to jail people for believing in astrology.) Such a need for freedom of belief and experience, as well as the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing all human beings is of attempting to unravel the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of these ontological questions, unanswered and unanswerable by science, is so vast it would be only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources and religious faiths, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise. Perhaps that is why some solitary thinkers have sought to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes, sometimes by deliberate conversion from one faith to the next.

A flourishing society, then, would be one which grows along the three planes of science, religion and art under conditions of freedom. And such a notion may be measured at different scales of social life. It starts with the family as the author of Anna Karenina knew in its famous opening sentence: “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It could then move to flourishing tribes, neighborhoods or local communities, to flourishing towns, provinces, or whole nations. At any of these levels, the flourishing society is one which inhales deeply the fresh air of natural science, and so sees its knowledge of the material world grow by leaps and bounds; it encourages religious and philosophical discussions and tolerance so does not fail to comprehend its own purpose of being; and it lives creatively and self-critically in trying to improve the expressiveness of its artistic achievements. Such a society would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artifacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one which possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence.

4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
Actual societies, whether small like families or large like nations, in East or West, now or in the past, typically display these qualities in relative balance, excess, or shortage.6 Broadly speaking, throughout the vast span of Asia, there has been unstinting admiration over the last two hundred years for the contribution of the modern West to art, architecture and the growth of scientific knowledge. Where it has come to be known and applied, there has been admiration for liberal Western political thought; while ancient Asian nations which hastily imported ideologies like fascism and communism have lived to regret it. Western political morality at its finest derives from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that rational beings recognise one another’s autonomy and treat one another as ends in themselves, not as means towards each other’s ends. 7 We see this in action today in for example the cordial relations between the USA and Canada, or between North America and Europe, or in recent attempts at European integration.

Asian nationalists in the 20th Century struggled to try to establish individual autonomous national identities, as the West had done in the 18th and 19th centuries. Asian nationalism represented an unwillingness to be treated as mere means towards the ends of Western nations, something we still see today when country B is used to counter A, then C used to counter B, then D used to counter C, etc in the old imperial manner of divide and rule This remains a serious problem of international relations but is something Asia can resolve independently by seeking to create for herself free societies which flourish in science, religion and the arts which would then be robust, self-confident and autonomous enough to decline to be used as means towards others’ ends. Furthermore, Asian societies in some respects all resemble one another and pre-modern Western societies more than they do the contemporary West. These pre-modern societies were ones in which a person was identified by rights and obligations flowing from the place he or she came to occupy through inheritance or brave achievement, and centred around the loyalty of friendship and kinship, as well as fidelity of the household. The relationships between the sexes, between generations, between friends, all these across Asia today may still perhaps resemble one another and the pre-modern West more than they do some trends in the contemporary West. History and identity continue to predominate our cultures in Asia: everyone is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister or friend or relative, everyone is from some place and is of some age; and every deed has a history to it which everyone knows about or wants to talk about.

In contrast, the modern Western financial economics which the present author teaches his students, describes a world of anonymous “efficient markets” with no memory; where anyone can thrive as long as he or she brings something of value to trade; where all information needed to determine prices tomorrow is contained in today’s prices and events; where nothing from yesterday is necessary to determine anything in the future; where the actual direction of price-change is random and cannot be consistently foretold, so we cannot in general make any prediction which will lead to profit without risk. We are to imagine a large number of players in such a market, each with only a tiny bit of market-power itself, and none able to move the terms of trade on its own. Each of these players then, according to the textbooks, seizes every chance to improve his or her own position regardless of all else, he or she will “buy low” and “sell high” whatever and whenever possible, until price differences between identical assets vanish and no extra profit remains to be squeezed out from anything. Such briefly is the pure theory of the efficient market economy which one teaches as an economist. One tells one’s students it is a good thing, and it is to be found, if anywhere in the best international financial markets, and that what globalization refers to is the whole world becoming like one big efficient marketplace.8

Yet, privately, Asia may have watched with dismay the near-collapse of family and social life which has sometimes accompanied the modern prosperity and technological advancement. The war in Vietnam brought obvious physical destruction to parts of Asia but may also have had more subtle corrosive long-term effects on the social fabric of the West. If there has been something liberal and humane about Western politics while Asian politics have been cruel and oppressive, there may also be something stable and chaste about traditional Asian family life while modern Western societies have sometimes seemed vapid and dissolute. Specifically, if it is fair to say there has been too little autonomy experienced by women and children in many Asian societies, it may be fair as well to observe a surfeit of choices may have arisen in some Western societies, greater than many women and children there may privately wish for. How does a society find its right balance on the question of the autonomy, modesty and protection of family life and other social relationships? The divorce courts of the ultra-modern world are places of deep misery for everyone except the lawyers involved in the trade, and as some Asian leaders have observed, something the globalization of Asia could well seek to avoid. Thus the dilemma faced by many Asians today may be how to absorb the efficiency of markets and sound governance of liberal political institutions, without the kind of private social collapse that seems to have occurred in many ultramodern societies, nor the kind of loss of political sovereignty against which Asian nationalists had struggled during the age of imperialism. We may now see how far this brief but general theory of globalization may be applied in explaining the bewildering events of September 11 2001.

5. September 11 : the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Words are also deeds while deeds may also convey meaning.9 The words and deeds of the perpetrators of September 11 2001, and of the nation-states organized against them since that date, are both components of a complex and subtle global conversation taking place as to the direction of our common future.
In earlier times, Gandhi, King and Mandela each led successful non-violent political protests of “non-white” peoples against “white” organized authorities. Their protests assumed a level of tolerance arising out of mutual respect between rebel and authority. None was a totalitarian revolutionary out to destroy his adversary in toto but rather each intended to preserve and nurture many aspects of the existing order. Each had first become the master of the (Christian?) political idiom of his adversary and was willing and able to employ this idiom to demonstrate the selfcontradiction of his opponent, who was typically faced with a charge of hypocrisy, of maintaining both x and its contrary ~x and so becoming devoid of meaning. Such political conversations of words and deeds required time and patience, and the movements of Gandhi, King and Mandela each took decades to fructify during the 20th Century. They had more conservative accommodative currents on one side, and more impatient radical terroristic offshoots on the other.

All such aspects seem absent from September 11 and its aftermath, which seems at first sight sui generis. No patient non-violent political protest movement can be identified of which September 11 was a violent terroristic offshoot or parallel. Tolerance has not merely vanished but been replaced by panic, mutual fear and hatred. Violence appears as the first and not last recourse of political discussion. The high speed of the modern world almost demands a winner to be declared instantly in conflicts with subtle and unobvious roots, and the only way to seem to win at speed is by perpetrating the largest or most dramatic amount of violence or cruelty. The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries.

But this would be too hasty an assessment. The global conversation clearly collapsed very badly from the time of e.g. Carlyle’s effort in 1842 to understand Islam’s legacy to the point of September 11 2001 being carried out against the United States or Western civilisation in general in Islam’s name. Even so, the universal liberal virtues of patience, tolerance and common reasoning can still find use here — in identifying possible deep, long-term historical factors which may have accumulated or congregated together to cause such a crime to take place.
One such historical factor has been technological and economic: the invention and immense use of the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th Century, coupled with discovery of petroleum beneath the sands of Arabia — all of which has made the material prosperity of the modern West depend, in the current state of technology, on this link not becoming ruptured. A second and independent factor has been the history of Christian Europe’s alternating persecution and emancipation of the Jewish people, which leads in due course to the Balfour declaration of 1919 and, following the Nazi Holocaust, to the creation of modern Israel among the Arabic- speaking peoples. The history between Christianity and Judaism is one in which the Arabic-speaking peoples were largely passive bystanders. Indeed, they may have been almost passive bystanders in creation of their own nation-states as well — for a third historical factor must be the lack of robust development of modern political and economic institutions among them, with mechanisms of political expression and accountability often having remained backward perhaps more so than in many other parts of Asia.

The end of World War I saw not only Balfour’s declaration but also Kitchener, Allenby and T. E. Lawrence literally designing or inventing new nationstates from areas on a desert-map:

“Our aim was an Arab Government, with foundations large and native enough to employ the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the rebellion, translated into terms of peace. We had to … carry that ninety percent of the population who had been too solid to rebel, and on whose solidity the new State must rest…. In ten words, (Allenby) gave his approval to my having impertinently imposed Arab Governments… upon the chaos of victory…”

“(The secret Arab societies) were pro-Arab only, willing to fight for nothing but Arab independence; and they could see no advantage in supporting the Allies rather than the Turks, since they did not believe our assurances that we would leave them free. Indeed, many of them preferred an Arabia united by Turkey in miserable subjection, to an Arabia divided up and slothful under the easier control of several European powers in spheres of influence.” 10

Beginning with the Allied-induced Arab revolt against the Turks, the classic imperial doctrine of “balance of powers” or “divide and rule” has seemed to continue to be applied in rather more subtle diplomatic form up until the present: with post-Mossadeq Iran against any incipient Arab nationalism, then with Iraq against post-Revolutionary Iran, then against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. It is only during and after the Gulf War that Osama Bin Laden, as a totalitarian revolutionary, arose as an adversary of the West.

Throughout these decades, little or no spontaneous cosmopolitan political conversation seems to have occurred from which a mature, sustained indigenous Arab or other Muslim nationalism may have arisen as the basis for nation-states, as had done e.g. with Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Vietnamese nationalism.11

From 1919 to 1945, the global conversation became preoccupied with other matters, and from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, with yet other matters again. While the three long-term factors unfolded themselves through these turbulent decades, the natural vibrant free conversation vitally necessary for the political life of any people continued for the Arabic-speaking peoples to remain mostly stifled, dormant, inchoate or abortive. Expectedly enough, whatever little current it had turned inward to the insular austere roots of a faith of the desert:

“The Beduin of the desert…found himself indubitably free…. In his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath. There unconsciously he became near God…. The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great…. This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being…. This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns…” 12

But this attempt to return inevitably became something reactionary in the late 20th Century. Finding the Beduin and the original deserts of Arabia transformed over the intervening decades, it could only try to recreate itself among the Pashtoon in the barrenness of Afghanistan, and led to the bizarre scenes of the Taliban attempting to destroy televisions and cassette-tapes in the name of Islam.

6. Envoi
The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis. They represented a final collapse of the centuries-old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, while at the same time it was an incoherent cry of a stifled people trying to return to the austere faith of the desert. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language. What September 11 has demonstrated is that even while the information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years, our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may well have grossly deteriorated in quality.

Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in the opinion of the present author, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those in Asia or elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner.

To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

© Subroto Roy, November 16 2001; January 26 2004

1 Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, London 1842.
2 In fact, “Gandhi’s correspondence with Tolstoy… only started after passive resistance had begun, and he only read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was in prison for that very offence”. Judith M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power,Indian Politics 1915-1922, Cambridge University Press 1972.
3 Cf. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton, 1961, Gorgias 474b, 483a, b.Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Thinking, pp. 181-182, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971
4 Applying this to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the precise question would be
how far the present Palestinian authority may be objectively considered the organized authority of a nation-state: if it is, then Palestinian suicide-killings are acts of war; if it is not, they are acts of terrorism. The rhetoric on each side
5 Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.
6 For example, the relatively new nation-states created upon the ancient societies of the Indian subcontinent to which the present author belongs, apparently display a surfeit of religiosity combined with a shortage of rational scientific growth, including the sciences of governance and economics. Despite the examples of solitary thinkers from Kabir and Nanak to Gandhi, the political and economic benefits of social tolerance still seem badly understood in the subcontinent. Equally, the mechanism of holding those in power accountable for their actions or omissions in the public domain has often remained extremely backward. A mature grasp of the division between the private and public spheres may also have been absent in Asia; the distinction between private and public property is often fuzzy or opaque; the phenomena of corruption and pollution are then easily explained as mirror-images of one another: corruption is the transmutation of something valuable from the public domain into private property; pollution is the expulsion of private waste into the public domain. Each is likely to be found with the other.
7 Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, ed. H. J. Paton, Oxford
8 The contrast between “named” and “anonymous” societies occurred to the
author on the basis of the theoretical work of Professor Frank Hahn of Cambridge University, Cf. Equilibrium and Macroeconomics, MIT 1984.
9 This was emphasized by the late Cambridge philosopher Renford Bambrough, “Thought, word and deed”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol.
LIV, 1980, pp. 105-117.
10 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A Triumph, 1926, Doubleday 1935, pp. 649, 659; pp. 46-47
11 The most may have been Attaturk’s Turkey, M. A. Jinnah’s creation of a Pakistan separate from India, and Algeria’s independence from France — all distant from the fulcrum of Arabia. In case of Pakistan, it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that led the British, in something of a panic, to begin on September 3 1939 to treat Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with Gandhi ‘s Indian National Congress. The 1937 provincial election results had shown little support for Pakistan in the areas which today constitute that country. Cf. F. Robinson, “Origins” in Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by William E. James & Subroto Roy, Hawaii MS 1989, Sage 1992, Karachi OUP 1993.
12 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pp. 40-41

Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform

Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform

Subroto Roy

 

Author’s Note May 2008: The family of Rajiv Gandhi received a copy of this when it was first written in July 2005. An earlier abbreviated version “Encounter with Rajiv Gandhi: On the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform” was published in October 2001 in Freedom First, Bombay, a journal founded by the late Minoo Masani and now edited by S V Raju. A copy of that article was received by all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha. In May 2002, the Congress Party passed an official resolution stating Rajiv Gandhi and not Narasimha Rao or Manmohan Singh was to be credited with having originated the 1991 economic reforms. This article has now been published in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2007.  It may be profitably followed by “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice & J&K”, “What to tell Musharraf”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Fallacious Finance”, “Against Quackery”, etc. My original advisory memoranda to Rajiv in 1990-1991 were published in The Statesman’s Editorial Pages July 31-August 2 1991, and now have been republished elsewhere here as well. See too https://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/rajiv-gandhi-and-the-origins-of-indias-1991-economic-reform/did-jagdish-bhagwati-originate-pioneer-intellectually-father-indias-1991-economic-reform-did-manmohan-singh-or-did-i-through-my-e/  https://independentindian.com/2014/08/07/haksar-manmohan-and-sonia/

 

 

 

I met Rajiv Gandhi for the first time on 18th September 1990 thanks to an introduction by S. S. Ray. We met a half dozen or so times until his assassination in May 1991. Yet our encounter was intense and consequential, and resulted directly in the change of the Congress Party’s economic thinking prior to the 1991 elections. I had with me results of an interdisciplinary “perestroika-for-India” project I had led at the University of Hawaii since 1986. This manuscript (later published by Sage as Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s edited by myself and W. E. James) was given by me to Rajiv, then Leader of the Opposition, and was instrumental in the change of thinking that took place. In interests of fairness, I tried to get the work to V. P. Singh too because he was Prime Minister, but a key aide of his showed no interest in receiving it.

 

The Hawaii project manuscript contained inter alia a memorandum by Milton Friedman done at the request of the Government of India in November 1955, which had been suppressed for 34 years until I published it in May 1989. Milton and Rose Friedman refer to this in their memoirs Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998). Peter Bauer had told me of the existence of Friedman’s document during my doctoral work at Cambridge under Frank Hahn in the late 1970s, as did N. Georgescu-Roegen in America. Those were years in which Brezhnev still ruled in the Kremlin, Gorbachev was yet to emerge, Indira Gandhi and her pro-Moscow advisers were ensconced in New Delhi, and not even the CIA had imagined the Berlin Wall would fall and the Cold War would be over within a decade. It was academic suicide at the time to argue in favour of classical liberal economics even in the West. As a 22-year-old Visiting Assistant Professor at the Delhi School of Economics in 1977, I was greeted with uproarious laughter of senior professors when I spoke of a possible free market in foreign exchange. Cambridge was a place where Indian economists went to study the exploitation of peasants in Indian agriculture before returning to their friends in the well-known bastions of such matters in Delhi and Calcutta. It was not a place where Indian (let alone Bengali) doctoral students in economics mentioned the unmentionable names of Hayek or Friedman or Buchanan, and insisted upon giving their works a hearing.

 

My original doctoral topic in 1976 “A monetary theory for India” had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India” was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers.

 

Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery and other eminences, and then Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, provoking the lead editorial of The Times on May 29 1984. The Indian High Commission sent the editorial to the Finance Ministry where it caused a stir as the first classical liberal attack on post-Mahalonobis Indian economic thought since B. R. Shenoy’s original criticism decades earlier. The “perestroika-for-India” project was to follow at Hawaii starting in 1986. New Delhi was represented at the project’s conference held between May 22-27 1989 by the accredited Ambassador of India to the USA, the accredited Consul General of India to San Francisco, and by the founder-director of ICRIER (see photo).

 

friedman-et-al-at-uh-india-conf-19891

 

All this I brought into that first meeting with Rajiv Gandhi on September 18 1990. That first day he came to the door to greet me. He was a handsome tall man with the most charming smile and manner, seemed pleased to see me and put me at ease at once. I gave him my books as well as the manuscript of the “perestroika for India” project. He gave me a celebratory volume that had just been published to mark his grandfather’s centenary. He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.

 

I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)

 

 

Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.

 

 

The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again.

 

The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people. I was not told whom I was to meet but that there would be a meeting on Monday, 24th September. On Saturday, the Monday meeting was postponed to Tuesday because one of the persons had not been able to get a flight into Delhi. I pressed to know what was going on, and was told I was to meet former army chief K.V. Krishna Rao, former foreign secretary M. K. Rasgotra, V. Krishnamurty and Sam Pitroda.

 

The group met for the first time on September 25 in the afternoon. Rasgotra did not arrive. Krishna Rao, Pitroda, Krishnamurty and I gathered in the waiting room next to George’s office. The three of them knew each other but none knew me and I was happy enough to be ignored. It seemed mysterious while we were gathering, especially when the tall well-dressed General arrived, since none of us knew why we had been called by Rajiv, and the General remarked to the others he had responded at once to the call to his home but could not get a flight into Delhi for a day.

 

Rajiv’s residence as Leader of the Opposition had a vast splendid meeting room, lined with high bookshelves on one or two walls, a large handsome desk on one side, two spacious comfortable sofa sets arranged in squares, and a long conference table with leather chairs occupying most of the rest of the room. The entrance to it was via a small 10 ft by 10 ft air-conditioned anteroom, where George sat, with a fax machine, typewriters and a shredding machine, plus several telephones, and a used copy of parliamentary procedures on the shelf. Getting to George’s office was the final step before reaching Rajiv. There were several chairs facing George, and almost every prospective interviewee, no matter how senior or self-important, had to move from one chair to the next, while making small talk with George, as the appointment with Rajiv drew near. Opening into George’s office was a larger and shabbier waiting room, which is where we sat, which was not air-conditioned, and which opened to the outside of the building where a plainclothes policeman sometimes stood around with a walkie-talkie. There were large photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi on the wall, and a modern print also hung incongruously. A dozen or more plastic chairs lined the walls. There were faded torn issues of a few old magazines on the plastic coffee-table, and on one occasion there was a television playing the new sporadic domestic cable news and weather information for the entertainment of the many visitors waiting. Via this waiting room went the vast majority of people who were to meet Rajiv in his office. To reach the waiting room, one had to walk a hundred yards along a path lined by splendid high hedges from the initial reception desk at the rear-gate, manned by Congress Seva Dal volunteers in khadi wearing Gandhi-caps. These persons were in touch with George’s office by telephone, and would check with George or his assistant Balasubramaniam before sending a visitor along. The visitor would then pass through a metal-detector manned by a couple of policemen. If someone’s face came to be known and had been cleared once, or if someone acted to the policemen like a sufficiently important political personage, such a person seemed to be waved through. Outside, the front-entrance of the premises were closed unless extremely important people were entering or exiting, while at the rear-entrance there were usually two or three jeeps and several plainclothes policemen, who might or might not challenge the prospective visitor with a kind of “Who goes there?” attitude before the visitor reached the Seva Dal reception desk. The whole arrangement struck me from the first as insecure and inefficient, open to penetration by professional assassins or a terrorist squad, let aside insiders in the way Indira Gandhi had been assassinated. I could not imagine counter-terrorist commandos would suddenly appear from the high hedges in the event of an emergency.

 

On that Tuesday when Rajiv finally called in our group, we entered hesitantly not knowing quite what the meeting was going to be about. Rajiv introduced me to the others and then spoke of why he had gathered us together. He wanted us to come up with proposals and recommendations for the direction the country should take on an assumption the Congress Party was returned to power in the near future. He said it would help him to have an outside view from specialists who were not party functionaries, though the others obviously had been closely involved with Congress governments before. Rajiv said we were being asked to write a draft of what may enter the manifesto for the next election, which we should assume to be forthcoming by April 1991. I asked what might have become of the “perestroika” manuscript I had given him at our previous meeting. He said he had gotten it copied and bound, and that along with my 1984 monograph, it had been circulated among a few of his party colleagues who included P. Chidambaram and Mani Shankar Aiyar.

 

The initial meeting left us breathless and excited. Yet within a few days, the others became extremely tied up for personal causes, and I found myself alone in getting on with doing what we had been explicitly asked to do. I felt I should get done what I could in the time I had while keeping the others informed. Rajiv had said to me at our first meeting that he felt the Congress was ready for elections. This did not seem to me to be really the case. He actually seemed very isolated in his office, with George seeming to be his conduit to the outside world. I decided to start by trying to write a definite set of general principles that could guide and inform thought about the direction of policy. I spent the evening of October 26 in the offices at Rajiv’s residence, preparing an economic policy memorandum on a portable Toshiba computer of his, the first laptop I ever used. After Rajiv’s assassination, this was part of what was published in The Statesmen’s center pages July 31-August 2, 1991.

 

 

Rajiv read the work and met me on October 30 or 31, even though he was down badly with a sore throat after his sadbhavana travels around the country; he looked odd clad in khadi with a muffler and gym shoes. He said he liked very much what I had written and had given it to be read by younger Congress leaders who would discuss it for the manifesto, for an election he again said, he expected early in 1991. I said I was grateful for his kind words and inquired whom he had shown the work to. This time he said Chidambaram and also mentioned another name that made me wince. In December 1990, I was back in Hawaii when I was called on the phone to ask whether I could come to Delhi. With the rise of Chandrashekhar as Prime Minister, Rajiv had called a meeting of the group. But I could not go.

 

 

In January 1991, the Gulf War brought an odd twist to my interaction with Rajiv. On January 15, the UN deadline for the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait passed without Iraqi compliance, and American-led forces started the heavy aerial bombardment of Iraq. The American media had built up the impending war as one of utter devastation and mass killing, especially when the American infantry became engaged. Estimated casualties on the American side alone were being wildly exaggerated by the number of “body-bags” being ordered by the Pentagon. An even larger conflagration was being imagined if Israel entered the fighting, while Saddam Hussein had vowed to set fire to Kuwait’s oil-fields before retreating. I like everyone else erroneously believed the media’s hyperbole about the impending regional catastrophe. On January 16, just after the bombing of Iraq had begun, I called an American family friend who had retired from a senior foreign policy role and who had known me from when I was an infant. In informal conversation, I mentioned to him that since other channels had by then become closed, an informal channel might be attempted via India, specifically via Rajiv who was still Leader of the Opposition but on whom the Chandrashekhar Government depended. The sole aim would be to compel an immediate Iraqi withdrawal without further loss of life. What transpired over the next few days was that a proposal to that effect was communicated at Rajiv’s decision to a high level of the Iraqis on the one hand, and evidently received their assent, while at the same time, it was mentioned to the authorities on the American side. But nothing came of it. Rajiv initiated a correspondence with Chandrashekhar beginning January 19, demanding a coherent formulation of Indian policy in the Gulf war, and faxed me copies of this. By February 8, the Times of India led by saying Rajiv’s stand “on the Gulf War demonstrates both his experience and perspicacity … in consonance with an enlightened vision of national interest”, and urged Rajiv to “give the nation some respite from [the] non-government” of Chandrashekhar. I taped my phone conversations with Rajiv during the Gulf War because notes could not be taken at the necessary speed; in late December 1991, I was to give his widow a copy of the tape for her personal record.

 

 

I returned to Delhi on Monday, March 18, 1991 as new elections had been announced. Rasgotra said I should be in touch with Krishna Rao, and the next day March 19 Krishna Rao met me for several hours. I told him what I thought were the roots and results of the Gulf war. He in turn generously told me what had happened while I had been away. He said the group had met Rajiv in December with the proposal that Rajiv better organize his time by having an “office manager” of larger political stature than George. The name of a UP Congressman of integrity had been put forward, but nothing had come of it. Rajiv had been advised to keep Chandrashekhar in power through the autumn of 1991, as Chandrashekhar was doing Rajiv’s work for him of sidelining V. P. Singh. The idea was to cooperate with Chandrashekhar until he could be pushed up to the Presidency when that fell vacant. Rajiv had been advised not to work in a Chandrashekhar cabinet, though in my opinion, had we been like the Scandinavians, it was not impossible for a former prime minister to enter another cabinet on the right terms in the national interest of providing stable government, which was imperative at the time. Things seem to have slipped out of control when Chandrashekhar resigned. At that point, Rajiv called the group together and instructed them to write a draft of the manifesto for the impending elections. I had advised readiness back in September but the lack of organization had prevented much tangible progress at the time. Our group was to now report to a political manifesto-committee of three senior party leaders who would report to Rajiv. They were Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee and Madhavsingh Solanki. Krishna Rao liased with Narasimha Rao, Krishnamurty with Mukherjee, Pitroda with Solanki. While Rajiv would obviously lead a new Congress Government, Mukherjee was the presumptive Finance Minister, while Narasimha Rao and Solanki would have major portfolios though Narasimha Rao was expected to retire before too long.

 

 

Krishna Rao said I should be in touch with Krishnamurty who was preparing the economic chapters of the draft of the manifesto. Krishnamurty told me he had brought in A. M. Khusro to the group, and there would be a 5 p.m. meeting at Khusro’s office at the Aga Khan Foundation. I arrived early and was delighted to meet Khusro, and he seemed pleased to meet me. Khusro seemed excited by my view that India and Pakistan were spending excessively on defence against each other, which resonated with his own ideas, and he remarked the fiscal disarray in India and Pakistan could start to be set right by mutually agreed cuts in military spending. (Khusro was eventually to accompany Prime Minister Vajpayee to Lahore in 1999).

 

 

Krishnamurty had prepared a draft dated March 18 of several pages of the economic aspects of the manifesto. After our discussions, Krishnamurty was hospitable enough to open the draft to improvement. That evening, the 19th, I worked through the night and the next morning to get by noon copies of a revised version with all the members of the group. At 4 p.m. on the 20th there was a meeting at Andhra Bhavan of the whole group except Pitroda, which went on until the night. The next day the 21st , Krishnamurty, Khusro and I met again at Andhra Bhavan for a few hours on the economic aspects of the draft. Then in mid-afternoon I went to Rasgotra’s home to work with him and Krishna Rao. They wanted me to produce the economic draft which they could then integrate as they wished into the material they were dictating to a typist. I offered instead to absorb their material directly on to my laptop computer where the economic draft was. Rasgotra was reluctant to let go control, and eventually I gave in and said I would get them a hard copy of the economic draft, which they then planned to re-draft via a stenographer on a typewriter. At this, Rasgotra gave in and agreed to my solution. So the work began and the three of us continued until late.

 

That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.

 

This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the V. P. Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization.

 

 

The next day, Friday March 22, I worked from dawn to get the penultimate draft to Krishna Rao before noon as planned the night before. Rasgotra arrived shortly, and the three of us worked until evening to finish the job. I left for an hour to print out copies for a meeting of the entire group, where the draft we were going to submit would come to be decided. When I got back I found Rasgotra had launched an extended and quite unexpected attack on what had been written on economic policy. Would someone like Manmohan Singh, Rasgotra wanted to know, agree with all this talk we were putting in about liberalization and industrial efficiency? I replied I did not know what Manmohan Singh’s response would be but I knew he had been in Africa heading something called the South-South Commission for Julius Nyrere of Tanzania. I said what was needed was a clear forceful statement designed to restore India’s credit-worthiness, and the confidence of international markets. I said that the sort of thing we should aim for was to make clear, e.g. to the IMF’s man in Delhi when that person read the manifesto, that the Congress Party at least knew its economics and was planning to make bold new steps in the direction of progress. I had argued the night before with Rasgotra that on foreign policy we should “go bilateral” with good strong ties with individual countries, and drop all the multilateral hogwash. But I did not wish to enter into a fight on foreign policy which he was writing, so long as the economic policy was left the way we said. Krishnamurty, Khusro and Pitroda came to my defence saying the draft we had done greatly improved on the March 18 draft. For a bare half hour or so with all of us present, the draft was agreed upon. Later that night at Andhra Bhavan, I gave Krishna Rao the final copy of the draft manifesto which he was going to give Narasimha Rao the next day, and sent a copy to Krishnamurty who was liaising with Pranab Mukherjee. Pitroda got a copy on a floppy disc the next day for Solanki.

 

 

In its constructive aspects, the March 22 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto went as follows with regard to economic policy: “CHAPTER V AGENDA FOR ECONOMIC ACTION 1. Control of Inflation …. The Congress believes the inflation and price-rise of essential commodities… is a grave macroeconomic problem facing the country today. It has hit worst the poorest and weakest sections of our people and those with fixed incomes like pensioners. The Congress will give highest priority to maintaining the prices of essential commodities, increasing their production and supply using all appropriate economic instruments. 2. Macroeconomic Policy Framework To control inflation of the general price-level, the Congress will provide a predictable long-term policy framework. The average Indian household and business will not have their lives and plans disrupted by sudden changes in economic policy. Coherent monetary policy measures will be defined as called for by the Report of Experts of the Reserve Bank of India in 1985. The Long-Term Fiscal Policy introduced by the Congress Government of 1984-1989 will be revived. Medium and long-term export-import policies will be defined. The basis for a strong India must be a strong economy. The Congress believes a high rate of real growth is essential for securing a strong national defence, social justice and equity, and a civilized standard of living for all. As the party of self-reliance, Congress believes resources for growth must be generated from within our own economy. This means all wasteful and unproductive Government spending has to be cut, and resources transferred from areas of low priority to areas of high national priority. Subsidies have to be rationalized and reduced, and productivity of investments already made has to be improved. The widening gap between revenue receipts and revenue expenditure must be corrected through fiscal discipline, and the growing national debt brought under control as a matter of high priority. These policies in a consistent framework will create the environment for the freeing of the rupee in due course, making it a hard currency of the world of which our nation can be proud. Public resources are not unlimited. These have to be allocated to high priority areas like essential public services, poverty-reduction, strategic sectors, and protection of the interests of the weaker sections of society. Government has to leave to the initiative and enterprise of the people what can be best done by themselves. Government can now progressively vacate some areas of activity to the private, cooperative and non-government sectors. Black money in the parallel economy has become the plague of our economic and political system. This endangers the social and moral fabric of our nation. Artificial price controls, excessive licensing, capacity restrictions, outmoded laws on rent control and urban ceiling, and many other outdated rules and regulations have contributed to pushing many honest citizens into dishonest practices. The Congress will tackle the problem of black money at its roots by attacking all outmoded and retrograde controls, and simplifying procedures in all economic spheres. At the same time, the tax-base of the economy must be increased via simplification and rationalization of tax-rates and coverage, user-fees for public goods, and reduction of taxes wherever possible to improve incentives and stimulate growth. 3. Panchayati Raj India’s farmers and khet mazdoors are the backbone of our economy. Economic development is meaningless until their villages provide them a wholesome rural life. The Congress will revitalize Panchayat Raj institutions to decentralize decision-making, so development can truly benefit local people most effectively. 4. Rural Development Basic economic infrastructure like roads, communications, fresh drinking water, and primary health and education for our children must reach all our villages. The Congress believes such a policy will also relieve pressures from migration on our towns and cities…… Through the Green Revolution which the Congress pioneered over 25 years, our farmers have prospered. Now our larger farmers must volunteer to contribute more to the national endeavour, and hence to greater equity and overall economic development. Equity demands land revenue should be mildly graduated so that small farmers holding less than one acre pay less land revenue per acre…. 9. Education and Health The long-run prosperity of our nation depends on the general state of education, health and well-being of our people. Small families give themselves more choice and control over their own lives. Improving female literacy, promoting the welfare of nursing mothers and reducing infant mortality will have a direct bearing on reducing the birth-rate and improving the health and quality of all our people. Primary and secondary education has high social returns and is the best way in the long-run for achievement of real equality. Efforts will be made to reduce the cost of education for the needy through concessional supply of books and other study materials, scholarships and assistance for transportation and residential facilities. The Congress Party pledges to dedicate itself to promoting education, especially in rural areas and especially for girls and the weaker sections of society. The next Congress Government will prepare and launch a 10-year programme for introduction of free and compulsory primary education for all children of school age. It will continue to emphasize vocational bias in education, integrating it closely with employment opportunities…. 11. Industrial Efficiency Our industrial base in the private and public sectors are the core of our economy. What we have achieved until today has been creditable, and we are self-reliant in many areas. Now the time has come for industry to provide more efficiency and better service and product-quality for the Indian consumer. The public sector has helped the Indian economy since Independence and many national goals have been achieved. Now it has become imperative that the management of public sector units is made effective, and their productivity increased. Major steps must be taken for greater accountability and market-orientation. Failure to do this will make our country lose more and more in the international economy. Budgetary support will be given only for public sector units in the core and infrastructure sectors. Emphasis will be on improving performance and productivity of existing investments, not on creating added organizations or over manning. Units not in the core sector will be privatised gradually. Even in core sectors like Telecommunications, Power, Steel and Coal, incremental needs can be taken care of by the private sector. The Government-Enterprise interface must be properly defined in a White Paper. The Congress believes privatisation must distribute the profits equitably among the people of India. In order to make our public enterprises truly public, it is essential that the shares of many such enterprises are widely held by the members of the general public and workers. Congress pledges to allot a proportion of such shares to the rural Panchayats and Nagarpalikas. This will enhance their asset-base and yield income for their development activities, as well as improve income-distribution. 12. Investment and Trade Indian industry, Government and professional managers are now experienced enough to deal with foreign companies on an equal footing, and channel direct foreign investment in desired directions. Foreign companies often bring access to advanced technological know-how, without which the nation cannot advance. The Congress Government will formulate a pragmatic policy channelling foreign investment into areas important to the national interest. Every effort must be made also to encourage Indians who are outside India to invest in the industry, trade and real estate of their homeland. Because of the protected and inflationary domestic market, Indian industry has become complacent and the incentive for industrial exports has been weakened. When all production is comfortably absorbed at home, Indian industry makes the effort to venture into exports only as a last resort. This must change. A Congress Government will liberalize and deregulate industry to make it competitive and export-oriented, keeping in mind always the interests of the Indian consumer in commercial policy. Export-oriented and predictable commercial policies will be encouraged. Existing procedural constraints and bottlenecks will be removed. Quotas and tariffs will be rationalized. Thrust areas for export-development will be identified and monitored. Efforts will be made to develop a South Asian Community. Trade and economic cooperation among South Asian countries must be increased and simplified.”

 

 

This March 22 1991 draft of the Congress’s intended economic policies got circulated and discussed, and from it rumours and opinions appeared that Congress was planning to launch a major economic reform in India. Economic Times said the manifesto “is especially notable for its economic agenda” and Business Standard said “if party manifestos decide election battles” Congress must be “considered home and dry”. A senior IMF official told me three years later the manifesto had indeed seemed a radical and bold move in the direction of progress, which had been exactly our intended effect. When I met Manmohan Singh at the residence of S. S. Ray in September 1993 in Washington, Ray told him and his senior aides the Congress manifesto had been written on my computer. Manmohan Singh smiled and said that when Arjun Singh and other senior members of the Congress had challenged him in the cabinet, he had pointed to the manifesto. Yet, oddly enough, while the March 22 draft got discussed and circulated, and the Indian economic reform since July 1991 corresponded in fundamental ways to its contents as reproduced above, the actual published Congress manifesto in April 1991 was as tepid and rhetorical as usual, as if some party hack had before publication put in the usual nonsense about e.g. bringing down inflation via price-controls. Certainly the published manifesto was wholly undistinguished in its economic aspects, and had nothing in it to correspond to the bold change of attitude towards economic policy that actually came to be signalled by the 1991 Government.

 

 

On March 23, our group was to meet Rajiv at noon. There was to be an event in the inner lawns of Rajiv’s residence in the morning, where he would launch Krishna Rao’s book on India’s security. Krishna Rao had expressly asked me to come but I had to wait outside the building patiently, not knowing if it was a mistake or if it was deliberate. This was politics after all, and I had ruffled feathers during my short time there. While I waited, Rajiv was speaking to a farmers’ rally being held at grounds adjoining his residence, and there appeared to be thousands of country folk who had gathered to hear him. When it was over, Rajiv, smiling nervously and looking extremely uncomfortable, was hoisted atop people’s shoulders and carried back to the residence by his audience. As I watched, my spine ran cold at the thought that any killer could have assassinated him with ease in that boisterous crowd, right there in the middle of Delhi outside his own residence. It was as if plans for his security had been drawn up without any strategic thinking underlying them.

 

 

Krishna Rao arrived and graciously took me inside for his book launch. The event was attended by the Congress’s top brass, including Narasimha Rao whom I met for the first time, as well as foreign military attaches and officers of the Indian armed forces. The attaché of one great power went about shaking hands and handing out his business card to everyone. I stood aside and watched. Delhi felt to me that day like a sieve, as if little could be done without knowledge of the embassies. One side wanted to sell arms, aircraft or ships, while the other wanted trips abroad or jobs or green cards or whatever for their children. And I thought Islamabad would be worse — could India and Pakistan make peace in this fetid ether?

 

 

Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin.

 

 

I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi. Eleven years later, on 25 May 2002, press reports said “P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.” Rajiv’s years in Government, like those of Indira Gandhi, were in fact marked by profligacy and the resource cost of poor macroeconomic policy since bank-nationalisation may be as high as Rs. 125 trillion measured in 1994 rupees. Certainly though it was Rajiv Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition in his last months who was the principal architect of the economic reform that came to begin after his passing.