Wednesday, May 29, 2013

US-China Cold War in Korea

The complete loss of bilateral trust in the peninsula is directly proportional to the expansionist interests of Beijing and Washington, DC. While the former patronises Pyongyang, the latter is an ally of Seoul

The Korean peninsula is again going through a rough time. North Korea’s nuclear test and South Korea’s close military co-operation with the US has lead the region and international community towards deep uncertainty. But this is not for the first time that there have been tensions in the Korean region. The two countries have been bitter rivals since the Korean War ended in 1953.

From North Korea’s standpoint, its aggression has been surfacing because of South Korea’s over-reliance on the US. Over the decades, South Korea’s easy access to nuclear capacity has created a sense of grave insecurity within the dictatorial regime of North Korea.

However, it is by manipulating this potential threat from a neighbour that the dynasty in North Korea has endured for long. And, the swiftness with which Mr Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as the Supreme Leader of North Korea confirms it. As for South Korea, it has moved with the times, keeping in mind its defence and trade-related requirements, under the shadow of the US.

North Korea, too, found in China, a patron to help it challenge the combined might of the US-South Korea alliance. Nevertheless, its reliance on China is not quite on the same level as the symbiotic relationship that South Korea shares with the US. But a liberal South Korea tried to bring about a rapprochement in the past with its ‘sunshine policy’ — this was a genuine initiative put forth by then President Kim Dae-jung in 1998.

The policy was a big step towards improved political and economic engagement with North Korea. Unfortunately, within a decade, it ceased to exist. This created ground for never-ending acrimony between these two countries. The present wave of hostilities in the Korean peninsula is possibly generated in response to the recent leadership change in South Korea and US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented aggression towards the ‘wrong part of world’.

For years, North Korea has routinely violated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. But the country’s third and latest nuclear test worried the American establishment to such an extent that North Korea is now considered by Washington, DC to be a serious threat — in fact, it seems to have been listed as the ‘foremost security threat in the region’.

North Korea’s young and immature Supreme Leader has only made the situation worse by behaving unmindfully. At the height of a crisis such as this, North Korea has made a terrible blunder by not pushing for serious negotiations.

North Korea may succeed in engaging the US, but it has no infrastructure to effectively challenge the world’s mightiest country. The US is formidable because it can fight relentlessly. Often, it even wages war without apparent reason. This is perhaps because it has no civilisational back-up that India enjoys, so it has little to consider regarding the moral degradation that comes with such aggression.

A few weeks ago, the North Korean Government stepped up the security-cover it provides to foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang. Before that, it had stopped the movement of South Korean workers employed in a giant business district run by both countries — this was an attack on business interests, and had more than just a symbolic impact on South Korea. It made Seoul more worried over its vulnerable location. South Korea’s capital is close to the demilitarised zone and could be demolished in case there is a military confrontation with the North.

The complete loss of bilateral trust in this region can be seen as directly proportional to the expansionist interests of both China and the US.

‘Multi-lateralism’ is an obsolete term today — the US has ensured as much with its remarkable follies in the past six decades. The Cold War has been over for more than two decades now, and there is no supposed threat from the Soviet Union which does not even exist. But given the manner in which the US is responding to any Chinese overture around the world, it seems like the the foreign and military policies of America are yet to move with the times.

As for China, it is not always what it appears. Sometimes, its actions help clear the fog around it; at other times its intentions are unclear. For example, in the Korean region and even in Nepal, China has played an awkward role. Remember North Korea was once sanctioned by China too under its opportunistic state policy. And Nepal will pay the price for cosying up to the Asian giant.

As for the Korean clashes, they will probably not end in the foreseeable future. But India can, meanwhile, learn a lesson from China which has undertaken a dangerous march in the neighbourhood, outside of its den. It needs to be careful
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on May7,2013)

Borders and boundaries

The open India-Nepal border best reflects the strength of ties between these two nations but their lackluster management reveals the compromised benefits that proper handling could have achieved. With the passage of time, the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which broadly defines bilateral strategic and trade relations between the two countries, now needs an overhaul.

The 1950 treaty mandates that “neither Government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor” and made mandatory to both sides “to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in friendly relations subsisting between the two Governments.”

Primarily, these accords were meant to strengthen ties between the two countries, give Nepal preferential economic treatment and provide Nepalis in India the same economic and educational opportunities as Indian citizens. Also, it ensured that the India-Nepal border would be open and people from both sides could move freely across the border without passports/visas and live and work in either country.

However, by 1978, the trade and transit treaties were separated, owing to demands from Nepal.Unfortunately, in 1988, when these treaties were up for renewal, Nepal’s less pragmatic stand to not accommodate India’s wishes on the transit treaty forced India to call for a single trade and transit treaty. Nepal maintained its firm position, which led to an unprecedented strain on India-Nepal relations.

A virtual Indian economic blockade on Nepal continued till April 1990, which was a painful episode and should be remembered as insincere political moves were made by both sides. The countries hit a new low in bilateral relations after Nepal’s arms deal with China in 1988, albeit it was later observed that economic issues were the real determinant.

Rajiv Gandhi, then Indian PM, took the matter as violation of the treaties of 1959 and 1965 but failed to understand the extraneous clout India was enjoying with these treaties. As per Gandhi, “Nepal was in India’s security zone and was prohibited from purchasing arms without India’s approval.” Such clauses were naturally unacceptable to a sovereign nation like Nepal. However, it is also true that king Birendra’s actions were focused more on irritating his Indian counterparts than going against those treaties.

Thereafter, India linked security with economic relations and took action to review India-Nepal relations. Soon, Nepal had to rethink its position after dwindling economic conditions led to a drastic change in its political system, with the effect that the king was compelled to endorse a parliamentary democracy.

As expected, the new government quickly sought to restore normal relations with India. After that, the ‘special’ security relationship between India and Nepal was reestablished during the New Delhi visit of Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in June 1990. Six months later, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala also visited Delhi and the two countries signed new, and separate, trade and transit treaties to provide more economic benefits to Nepal.

In April 1995, Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikari visited New Delhi and negotiated well on a major review of the 1950 peace and friendship treaty. These three high-profile political visits from Kathmandu proved beneficial for India-Nepal relations. But 1996 onward, Nepal started losing its usual stream of politics under the virulent affects of an armed insurgency driven by the Maoists. The country ushered in a painful spiral of civil war with conditions becoming much grimmer with the highly suspicious royal massacre of 2001.

Gyanendra, the new king had neither the acceptance of the masses nor the capability to deal with a tricky political situation where the democratic movement was getting swiftly radicalised. In the further course of time, the Maoists made politics a popular but non-serious business through their unrelenting dubious acts. They made Nepal less progressive, going against their hyped claims, and blocked the country’s quest for better economic and diplomatic stakes in South Asia.

However, in present circumstances, a new course of action would do much good for the bilateral relations between India and Nepal and for other areas of Nepal’s interest. As prevailing strategic challenges are much bigger than in the 1950s and Nepal’s biggest quest should be to give its economy continuous momentum, the time has come when the open border must be handled more proactively to redefine trade and diplomatic cooperation between these two countries.

In particular, Nepal’s Terai region, which borders the Indian districts of north Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, could be turned into a major source of trade exchanges with India. Here, border management has to be more liberal. As someone hailing from the border regions, I have experienced the practical hurdles created by rudeness at the border check-posts. On many occasions, I have seen petty traders being exploited for no fault of their own by security personnel at the border.

Notionally, it is true that these two countries share liberal border but sadly, its entrepreneurial benefits have not reached the people living on both sides of the border. Through more progressive border plans, cluster-based trade relationships between India and Nepal could be taken ahead. This will also effectively change the pattern and outlook of bilateral relations at the macro level.

Improved trade relations would give India valid reasons for greater engagement with Nepal in developing road and rail networks along the border. A proper rail network between Madhuban-Janakpur, and a later extension to Kathmandu, will end the logistic hurdles of trade in Nepal. For decades, these small changes have been awaiting governmental action but few have their minds oriented there.Beyond the obsession with big treaties and imaginary outcomes, Nepal should pursue its relationship with India to improve its economic position.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on May5,2013)

Pataudi:The royal cricketer

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket by Suresh Menon (edited), Harper Sport, 186p; Rs499 (Hardback)
Nawab by pedigree and a cricketer by natural talent, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi had ceased the entire decade of 1960’s with his unwavering charm and charisma. On and off the field, he remained a sensation and icon of change in Indian cricket.

His greatness as a sportsperson is much above the statistical record he left for the game of cricket- he brought winning belief in Indian cricket team. While earlier, Indians were playing international cricket to keep the outcome of game, either at ‘draw’ or for losing it. Things changed with the arrival of Pataudi as a Captain-the best happened. He led country to forty matches out of forty-six test matches he played.

Notwithstanding his erstwhile royal connection, he was ‘a regular boy’. Farokh Engineer, a contemporary legend and one of the closest team-mates of Pataudi noted it first. He remained afraid of flight, and was kin to travel in train for the longest journey possible. For compelling international trips, a big round of counseling was a prerequisite. And on car, his place was besides the chauffer.

This all started with a freak road accident in England. He lost one of his eyes. He was only a few matches old. Irrespective of the handicap, he played the greatest quick bowlers of his time and never fell short on his aggressive act of batting or in the field. Though well accustomed in the environment of Oxford, he had an option to play for England, but at core, he was an Indian.

Suresh Menon, a seasoned journalist and one among the prominent voices on cricket has edited a collectionable volume to understand the persona and cricket life of Pataudi. The twenty-three essays give proper diversity to understand the contribution of Pataudi to Indian cricket.

However few of them are amazingly rich in their perspective. The essays of Farokh Engineer, Abbas Ali Baig, Naseeruddin Shah, N Ram, Vijay Merchant, Mudar Pathreya, M J Akbar and Suresh Menon’s are the gems of this anthology, and all add elegance.

While all other essays talk of Pataudi’s mark in cricket or personal life, Mudar Pathreya and M.J.Akbar recalls Pataudi, for his less known role as Editor of ABP’s Sportsworld.Against the perception, he was at ease with new ideas and people. He always had concern for people around him, accounts of Akbar and Pathreya confirms it.

This book has some rare photographs of cricketing greats and its cover page reminded me of my forgotten pastime. I stopped watching cricket, since IPL came in vogue.

Personally, I see this version (IPL) ‘deep down in sin’ and doing immeasurable harm to the real spirit of cricket. BCCI has virtually legalized gambling through IPL and has set itself as the last resort of ‘crony capitalists’. When the non-cricketing attributes are ruling the game in India, the lover of cricket has no option left except to get in close terms with ‘anecdotes’.

The generation who grew up in this decade, will probably never know the beauty of cricket. They will know cricket for ‘filthy reaches’ and cricketers for ‘fixing the game in over-colorful dresses’.

TV and newspapers will keep coveraging it and will inflict disastrous blows to the game of Cricket. India will not take long to forget the glorious past of Indian cricket team.

This book, offers a great deal about an epoch making cricketer and his cult personality. Posthumously, the fan of Nawab Pataudi will have no other better source than this book, to recall his passion for game, which he loved most.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on May26,2013)

The holly sinners!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Nobody can love you more by Mayank Austen Soofi, Penguin, 225p; Rs399 (Hardback)
Mayank is not laconic as a writer and he also breaks the stereotypical views. His book-Nobody can love you more on Delhi’s red light area, Garstin Bastion Road confirms it. GB Road, as it’s known popularly considered generally the work place for ‘fallen women’, pimps and visitors without identity or moral position.

But it’s an existing world, with running oldest profession of the civilisation and also of other petty trades. Here flesh traded and could be seen from the corner, unlike Delhi’s alternative elite flesh trade market, which was estimated last year for more than 500crore rupees per annum. Those are nut run from ‘red light area’ and the stories from that part of the world could not be made ‘vulgar and bawdy’.

Indian writing in English has followed a trend of pacifying the difficult subjects through prejudices-this book appears in contradiction of such odds by humanizing the narrative on unknown catalysts from a famous street for inglorious reasons. Sabir Bhai’s Kotha#300 and his five women tenant are the central characters of the book.

Mayank is not alien for them, they know he is a different person and he is here for chronicalising their live and knowing the plight from close quarters. So the interaction between writer and his characters come so natural that a reader may find an easy position on those conversations. They observe happiness, despair and also care for the baggage of history-their beingness as ‘holy sinner’ is not by-chance, rather which routes through the social norms of looking ‘weaknesses for ugliness’.

Earlier, I liked Louise Brown’s The Dancing Girls of Lahore on Lahore’s Heera Mandi but on Delhi’s similar grim truths, I had no proper book to refer until I read Nobody can love you more in a single seat and with deep engagement. Even though, momentously, the beauty of writer’s humane concern for these women and their affiliates stop devolving them beneath the optimal of existence.

The reading of this book allows ones to know, choices alone don’t make the fate. Sometime, even treading in particular direction happens unknowingly and that finally converge the bigger reality for streamlining with those miss-stepped. Still, the compulsions of life stay and these determines the state of ‘wretchedness or escapism’ amidst bitter turn-up of situation.

The author’s lively account of spent time with those residents of G.B.Road allows seeing a much different and genuine picture of the inner world. Like everything, G.B.Road also has a history and surprisingly it’s rich in the sense, it had once better reputation among the middle and upper classes. It was not that those days, flesh was not into trade, but then it was not taken so hypocritically and not given the fringe as destination.

So, it seems unusual when a young working journalist is chasing these lives with darkness in background. He shares the experiences, perspectives with few of the persons, for G.B Road holds a separate existence from rest nieghbourhood of swiftly changing Delhi. At some point, distinction diversifies and then author makes quest to see these lives vis-à-vis the world around them.

Here he finds the ‘civilisational gap’-the meaning of civilisation, though would be difficult to reckon and decode in general understanding. Sipping unfried daal at kotha ,if gives a particular sense of humanity it soon evaporates under the heavy commercial pressure, while sipping coffee at a plush restaurant of Connaught Place.

But Mayank keeps trying to proximate the two types of world, for better sake and reaching closer to the lives outpaced G.B Road. Writing on living things with difficult details is such a daunting and unfashionable task. It’s nice, this book has start getting attention from serious readers-nevertheless, unlikely that many more books of this taste would be written on the similar theme. As bearing the lives of marginalised is painful, and not taken by the majority for worth doing, alas!

Still hope is somewhere that the cities would stop making areas, red light or unholy for shock& awe magnetism. The beginning is remarkable here with Mayank Austen Soofi’s Nobody can love you, so it should be remain imminent as a formidable entry in non-fiction category. This book deserves reading, a bit of following too but never ‘clapping’!
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on May8,2013)

The dark fantasy!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Ayodhya: The Dark Night by Krishna Jha& Dhirendra K Jha, Harper Collins, 192p; Rs499 (Hardback)
Rationalizing the myth can’t be apt in the case, if it meant for tempering the truths. In India, the dark fantasy of communalism has been forming and deforming under the same contradictions-that stock of confused discourses have made the collective consciousness either weird or ineffective.

Since1947, Indian polity has been grappling with many maladies, but the reassertion of ‘religion as identity’ remains something, which still waiting its existential justification. Under heavy influence of this nefarious syndrome, we can see in South Asia-Pakistan, on the brink of disaster and Afghanistan, as a nation of opium and war.

India’s polity shaped through a democratic Constitution and strong institutional edifices have delivered over the years, though under the strain of sporadic but extreme counter-currents. India’s independence came following with the civilisational history’s worst human displacements and riot-after that, the father of nation was assassinated in 1948, and from here began the politics of Hindu Mahabha and RSS.

That stream of religious-political interface made the otherwise flawed Congress rule in the country, more acceptable and Hinduism, walking with a painful deadlock. Krishna Jha& Dhirendra K Jha’s Ayodhya: The Dark Night is a path-finding study on the means and practicing nuances of right wing politics in India. This book has sensitizing capacity and builds better perspective around a grave plot that has done immense harm to the nation.

Based on irrefutable facts, authors take the matter forward with recalling the fateful night of 22 December1949 in Ayodhya. That night, Abhiram Das-an obscure Sadhu (previously a wanderer from Darbhanga district of Bihar) and his followers successfully installed an idol of Rama in Babri Masjid. They faced resistance, but that overcome by these motley group.

Probably, that night no one of them were knowing the consequences of their act, as they worked blindly for rightist political organisations, politicians with similar taste in Congress and the ICS officer and then DM of Faizabad, , K.K.Nair. This man and his wife from Kerala played a long political inning from UP, besides amassing disproportionate property.

Point worth of noticing is, Ayodhya was not a place of limelight before that, then why it made the centrepoint of Hindu politics? The answer would be hard to get but somewhere, the reaction or action with no sense had formed under the impression that revivalist method of such dangerous scale can give the passage for religious rule in the country.

And that would be legitimized, as balancing course correction of wayward Islamic rule. Things’ didn’t travel the same way and that because, somewhere India is a functional democracy and it has its own compulsions and choices. The mileage was toned down; nevertheless India’s politics entered a different phase, which was not coherent and accommodative.

Nehru, was a firm believer in political processes, though only mildly in struggle after India got independence. So he dealt with Patel in own party and with opposition in well thought out procedures-he secured a temporary balance during his years in power. Subsequently things moved in calm until mid 1980’s. Rajiv Gandhi allowed opening of Babri Masjid and politics ignited after that.

In 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished and it became a full time front of politics between Congress-BJP. This book though has major focus on the beginning of the tragedy, but in patches also covers the events upto 1992. However, a dedicated CPI cadre herself, Krishna Jha, whom I have privilege of knowing for long, could have relate her excellent findings with the dwindling stake of left parties on the wake of high drama.

The books open little on this-but beyond that, it gives enough insight to know communalism has changed the line of political priorities. It also comprehensively recalls the roles Gandhian activists, who fought against the communal politics in Ayodhya. Decades later, the politics is more competitive and dramatic then it was at any point of time in modern India.

Written without obvious political bias and in gentler tone, this book is an essential read to know the genesis, development and saturation of Ayodhya episode. To wipe-out the metaphor (which is unpleasant) would be not possible for anyone, so that would be continuing!
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on May12,2013)

Anatomy of a Warmonger

Book Review: Non-fiction/ The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone& Peter Kuznick, Ebury Press, 750p;$30(Paperback)
Filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick give an uncompromising and riveting account of America’s disconcerting history...
In their book, while Oliver Stone, filmmaker par excellence and Peter Kuznik, renowned academic, study the period from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the present regime of Obama and highlight, the extent to which democratic ideas have been abandoned by world’s largest democracy, what they really do is to create an academic space, wherein the systematic war crimes of America are out in the open for people to deliberate on.

By the early twentieth century witnessed the democratic ideals of Lincoln, Jefferson and William Bryan had ceased to exist in America—the country was now obsessively focussed on becoming a world power by building up a strong military and diplomatic capacity. Interestingly, unlike the usual thematic history books from the US, this one dwells, more obviously, on the decline of American empire rather glorifying the shining phases of its history. The authors debunk the view that the US is strategically pure, visionary and infallible.

Stone and Kuznik elucidate how the follies of America’s action have nothing to do with the military capacity—modern American history is unmatched in terms of such blunders. The ‘introduction’ of this book belies the misconceived but popular notion that war, equaled ‘glory’.
The book discusses, in the chapter, ‘Roots of Empire: War is a Racket’— the commercial interests driving the neoliberal empire and marks a departure from conventional history of the Unites States, as it is. This makes the book all the more remarkable and valuable for the serious readers of global strategic history.

The book begins with the brutal suppression of the Filipino struggle for independence by the US. Further, it studies the two World Wars, and cites the leverages, acquired by the US by its interventions on foreign soil and by making ‘local issues global’, which it later sorted out inappropriately to its advantage.

In the post Second World War era, the US single-handedly controlled and exercised influence over several Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Its newly found pastime was to make elitist dictators the heads of the state and achieve a dangerous equilibrium in nexus with smart terror operatives. It was responsible for the jihadi cells in Islamic countries, which eventually made the world less safe—thanks to the US.

The other power block and equal stakeholder of the Cold War—USSR was not really keen on its territorial expansion, as ideology had not suddenly fallen from grace there.

Stone and Kuznick dwell on the atomic policies of the US with unflinching courage. While doing this, they encounter the biased historiography that favours American action in various wars. They remind the readers that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally and militarily unjustified and provide a balance perspective of these sensitive issues.

The US loves war and that gives it its strategically unparalleled stature. Its nuclear arsenals are on hair trigger alert and can end the world in no time, and yet it hypocritically opposes nuclear proliferation. And its efforts for peace, on many occasions have brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
This double standard is now an established norm in American policy circles, which makes their strategic choices complex and oriented towards narrow self-interest. The book gives several instances when US presidents and diplomats, on many occasions have violated the spirit of American Constitution and international laws. The fatal leaning on arms over the decades has made the US, more a security state than a real democracy. This is shocking—as the world’s biggest triumph of democracy is appearing like a cunning empire, and without having any justification for such blunder.

Stone and Kuznick’s take on Woodrow Wilson has great clarity and in great detail, they show how his moves consolidated colonialism, rather help democracy. At best, his utterances were mere rhetoric, and his conflicting opinion delayed American action to address the threat posed by the opposition camp consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1930’s.

The Second World War would not have happened, had the US acted cautiously and promptly against three countries. As opposed to all the hyped up commitment to democracy, even at that time, the US was working to increase its clout in the changing global geopolitical order. It succeeded, but at the cost of unprecedented devastation, the world has ever seen and suffered. The authors provide mature insights on the past for the readers.

Stone and Kuznick praise Franklin D Roosevelt for acting promptly against fascism. They also give an account of the horrific choice of bombing Japan’s cities and getting into a long spiral of hostility with USSR, and the famous -Cold War. This made the world, less safe and stable forever—Afghanistan and the other disturbed Islamic countries are a prime example of this.

India experienced the dire effects of the Cold War in Kashmir. For long, it remained a parking lot for jihadis under the aegis of the US. The US deserves criticism, much more than USSR—as later was avoiding long strategic tussle.

The failure of USSR in 1991 was a project successfully completed for the US defence and diplomatic establishments. In subsequent phases, the US kept denying the existence of global terrorism till 9/11 attacks on its soil—only after that, it accepted, the world has threat from organised terrorism .Only after 2001 did the US started accepting the challenges posed to India by cross border terrorism.

The book offers fresh perspectives on the unexpected rise of Harry Truman and the positional saturation of Henry Wallace in American politics after the demise of FDR. The authors are oversympathetic to John F Kennedy, and his assassination is termed by them as a great blow to the efforts of peace undertaken by him. But truth was something else, as usual.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on September08,2013)