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A Chanakyan Lesson for Obama

In 2007, speaking at the London School of Economics, Benazir Bhutto declared that nurturing Taliban was a mistake ; in the 90s it looked like a wise move. In 90s Afghanistan was in disarray: the Americans had left, various Mujaheddin warlords controlled the supply route from Pakistan to Central Asia, and there was no central leadership. Aided by Pakistan, Afghan refugees who attended Islamic schools took over Afghanistan and according to the view at that time – brought stability.

While handing over Afghanistan to Taliban looked like a bad idea after 9/11, we are now back to early 90s thought process again. The American plan calls for negotiating with “moderate” Taliban, through a combination of “political accommodation, financial rewards and astute exploitation of inter-tribal rivalries.” Thus the same entities against which a war was fought and is still being fought, by a simple switch, are going to be rewarded with power.

In Mudrarakshasa, Vishakhadutta’s 4th century novel about the battle of wits between Chanakya and the deposed minister Amatya Rakshasa, a question arises about reinstating people who were thrown out.

In Act III, there is a heated conversation between Chakakya and Chandragupta Maurya on why certain people switched allegiance to the enemy camp. Among them there are, Bhadrabahata, the superintendent of elephants and Purushadatta, the superintendent of horse. Chanakya explains that these two superintendents were given over to women, drinking and hunting. They neglected their duties and hence were removed from their posts.

Chanakya explains that two kinds of action can be taken against subjects who have grievances; they can be rewarded or they can be punished. In the case of Bhadrabahata or Purushadatta rewarding them would mean giving them their jobs back. To reinstate people who have been dismissed for incompetence, Chanakya explains, would be to strike at the very foundation of government.

The question in Mudrarakshasa is domestic politics while it is international terrorism in Afghanistan and the Taliban were removed from power, not exactly for incompetence. One point is moot though: you do not forget why they were dismissed in the first place; you do not give them an opportunity to commit the same crimes again.

Later in Mudrarakshasa, one of the characters Bhagurayana laments about politics.

Turning friend into foe, foe into friend
on grounds of practical advantages
Politics takes a man while he still lives
Into another birth where earlier memories are lo

Bhagurayana’s lament is true about geo-politics as well. There is no excuse, if a decade later, we look back at 2009 and repent like the 2007 Benazir.

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Israel and Two Democracies

On Nov 29, 1947, few months after India’s independence, Resolution 181 was approved by the General Assembly to partition the territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The vote was 33-10 with 10 abstentions. Albert Einstein had written to the Prime Minister designate of India that year asking support for a Jewish state, but Nehru wrote back saying that while he was sympathetic to the suffering of Jews, he did not like that the new state would be located on someone else’s land. He also wrote that due to India’s national interests, he could not support the formation of Israel. Thus India voted along with Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen against the resolution.

In United States, an unpopular Harry Truman supported the partition, but faced opposition from the State and Defence departments. One of the biggest opponent of the plan was Secretary of State, George Marshall, who bluntly told Truman that if elections were held, he would vote against the President. His Defence Secretary told him not to offend the Arabs since it could lead to denial of petroleum resources.

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence.

With only a few hours left until midnight in Tel Aviv, Clifford told the Jewish Agency to request immediate recognition of the new state, which still lacked a name. Truman announced recognition at 6:11 p.m. on May 14 — 11 minutes after Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv. So rapidly was this done that in the official announcement, the typed words “Jewish State” are crossed out, replaced in Clifford’s handwriting with “State of Israel.” Thus the United States became the first nation to recognize Israel, as Truman and Clifford wanted.[Washington’s Battle Over Israel’s Birth]

Richard Holbrooke writes that while many think Israel has been nothing but trouble for United States, it was the right decision.

Israel was going to come into existence whether or not Washington recognized it. But without American support from the very beginning, Israel’s survival would have been at even greater risk. Even if European Jewry had not just emerged from the horrors of World War II, it would have been an unthinkable act of abandonment by the United States. Truman’s decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one — and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire. [Washington’s Battle Over Israel’s Birth]

Though India did not recognize Israel till 1950 and did not have diplomatic relations still 1992, Nehru asked David Ben-Gurion for help during the 1962 war and it has continued till the Kargil war. Voting against Israel did not result in any extra ordinary favours from the Arab world which supports Pakistan’s Kashmir cause.

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Arunachal Pradesh: Taking a stand

It was the failure of Jawaharlal Nehru and V K Krishna Menon and those in India’s ministry of external affairs who were their advisers to understand the Chinese mindset, which led to the national humiliation in the Sino-Indian war of 1962.

Repeated warnings from the Intelligence Bureau about the large-scale Chinese intrusions into the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh and their construction of a road there were not only ignored, but these disturbing developments were kept away from the knowledge of the public and Parliament. They fondly believed that they would be able to make the Chinese see reason and withdraw from this region by observing a policy of silence and not articulating our concerns in public. Their fond hopes were belied.

It was not the Indian intelligence and security forces which were responsible for the 1962 debacle. It was the political leadership, which was living in an illusory world of its own creation [Tawang: Some Indian plain-speaking at last!]

Not much has changed from the days of Nehru in terms of preparedness, but now it is hard to hide such information from the public and Parliament and that in turn forces the  Ministers to make hard hitting public statements.

Talking to journalists in Shillong on June 16, Mukherjee said ‘he had made it clear to his new Chinese counterpart that any elected Government of India is not permitted by the provisions of the Constitution to part with any part of our land that sends representatives to the Indian Parliament.’

The minister added: ‘The days of Hitler are over. After the Second World War, no country captures land of another country in the present global context. That is why there is a civilised mechanism of discussions and dialogue to sort out border disputes. We sit around the table and discuss disputes to resolve them.’

Antony told journalists in New Delhi on June 18, ‘China has been building infrastructure (near the Line of Actual Control). We are also building infrastructure. Nobody can prevent both sides. There is nothing wrong in that. They have the right to build infrastructure on their territory. We have the right to do that on ours. We are also trying to hasten the development of our infrastructure. They have their perception (about Arunachal Pradesh). On our part, we are very categorical that Arunachal Pradesh is part of India.’ [Tawang: Some Indian plain-speaking at last!]

I wish they tried some of our suggestions as well.

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Diplomatic Middle Finger

When members of the Royal Navy were captured by the Iranians in March, the Iranians made sure that the British were decently humiliated. The sailors had to apologize for straying into Iranian waters and later  thank president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for magnanimously releasing them. The entire nation could do nothing, but watch this public humiliation in silence. Now displaying something called spine, the British have knighted Salman Rushdie providing employment opportunities for suicide bombers. The Iranians are upset and made the usual remarks.

There is a lesson from this for us. Now that China is making noise about Arunachal Pradesh (in the spirit of Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bade Bhai) we can follow the British model and cause some discomfort to the Chinese. One great way would be to ask the Prime Minister of India to give the keynote on the first ‘Conference for an Independent Tibet‘ organized by Friends of Tibet from June 23-24, 2007 in Delhi. Later in the day we could organize a discussion on the teachings of Falun Gong and compare their spiritual practices with Indian spiritual techniques.

Yes, it is juvenile, but sometimes it is the best way to get the message across.

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His Glass is Always Half Empty

Seeing Burma’s new capital city Naypyitaw, he wrote “its geometry so incredibly vast that even a crowd of half a million is unlikely to pose a political threat”. He was thrilled to see Mr. Ahmadinejad, the leader of a nation which supports the Lebanese Shiite militants of Hezbollah  and such terrorist groups as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. His blog looks like a journey through the axis of evil, with an occasional diversion via an interview with a Maoist. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Siddharth Varadarajan works for The Hindu.

In his latest post on the events in the Korean Peninsula, he is happy that a dramatic breakthrough has happened, but he puts the blame entirely on United States for the North Korean nuclear test while making North Koreans look like saints. He says that President George Bush’s remark classifying North Korea among the “axis of evil” undermined the 1994 Agreed Framework. North Koreans have not said so, but Mr. Varadarajan alone comes up with this theory. 

North Korea has a long history of terrorism and provocations against Japan and South Korea. Even though  South Korea was willing to ignore all activities of terrorism against it, but the Japanese were not. North Korea kidnapped Japanese citizens and used them for training North Korean agents for terrorism and in the six party talks, the Americans told several times to the North Koreans to settle the kidnapping issue and they did not.

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