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India can handle this triangle of conflict

General Suleimani was reportedly acting like an advisor to President Bashar al Assad — in parallel to Russian approach of friendship towards Syria.

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The elimination of General Qasem Suleimani heading Al Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps in an American drone attack at Baghdad, draws a parallel with the earlier killings of Abu Bakar al Baghdadi, the chief of ISIS in a raid by US Special Forces in Syria last year and of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a SEALs operation at Abottabad in Pakistan way back in 2011.

These three militant leaders termed by the US as ‘International Terrorists’ represented Islamic radicals who had declared the Americans as their sworn enemy and engaged in a no holds barred ‘proxy war’ against the US.

They belonged to the two different streams in Islam — Sunnis and Shias — that had produced extremists wedded to taking on the US-led West for political, ideological and historical reasons.

It began with the Emirate of Afghanistan under the Al Qaeda — Taliban leadership — installed by Pakistan in Kabul in 1996 — showing its fangs against the US — its subsequent ouster by the latter in fact laid the turf for the 9/11 attack.

In the ‘war on terror’ that followed under the US-led ‘world coalition’ against the global terror of Islamic radicals, the Pak-Afghan belt swayed by Al Qaeda-Taliban axis and the Syria-Iraq region dominated by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) emerged as the battlegrounds of this combat.

The Sunni extremists of the Al Qaeda and IS carried the historical memory of the 19th century Jehad that the Wahhabis had carried out against the Western encroachment on ‘Muslim lands’. They had given a call for restoration of the Islamic fundamentals of the times of the Pious Caliphs which, they contended, had been allowed to get ‘diluted’ in the mix of un-Islamic practices.

In the post-revolution Shiite Iran, the Ayatollahs similarly enforced the values of Caliph Ali that among other things intrinsically glorified the ‘virtue’ of poverty and detested what would become the present day capitalism.

At the same time, however, the origin of Shiism in the Kharijite revolt against Ali had produced an irreversible mutual hatred between the extremists of the two sects that is reflected in their current political relationship as well. Sunni Islamic radicals are anti-West but they also go after the Shias wherever they can find them — reports coming in regularly of Taliban attacking Shias in Pak-Afghan region prove the point.

This all makes it easy to understand that the geo-politics of West Asia is largely conditioned by the ascendancy of radical Islam in the Muslim world in the post-Cold War era.

Pakistan’s collaboration with Taliban in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from that country, shelter provided to Al Qaeda leadership by Pakistan on its own soil and the dubious role of Pakistan in the ‘war on terror’ should be mentioned as the principal reasons why this rise of radical forces became possible in the first place.

The US attack on Saddam Hussain heading a Baathist dispensation in Iraq in 2003 made Syria-Iraq region — with its anti-US regimes — a second theatre of radicals where ISIS would come up under al-Zarkawi, who had earlier been active in Afghanistan. ISIS attracted many combatants from the Pak-Afghan belt of Al Qaeda as well.

Shiite Iran under Ayatollahs — bracketed by US President George Bush with Iraq in his ‘axis of evil’ statement — was independently rising as a force against both US and Israel with the militant Hazbollah under its patronage extending its wings in Lebanon and Iraq.

On the other hand a number of Muslim and Arab countries under the umbrella of Saudi-chaired Organisation of Islamic Conference(OIC) — though running a harsh Islamic regime — remained on the right side of the US.

The picture in the Muslim world thus presents a three-way divide with radical Shiites and Sunnis directing their guns against US and also against each other and a significant cluster of Muslim states politically aligning themselves with America.

India could be a mere watcher of the scene but for the fact that Pakistan — a prime mover of OIC — has been conducting a ‘proxy war’ against us using cross border terrorism as its instrument and mobilising both radicals and other Islamic outfits against India for that purpose.

India has stakes in the developments in West Asia, including the Gulf for both economic and security reasons. India’s foreign policy has been successful in getting US under President Donald Trump to abandon the artificial divide between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ that Americans earlier made at the cost of Indian interests.

The challenge for India is to keep Indo-US friendship at a level where the American policy does not hyphenate India with Pakistan again and to build bilateral relations further with countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel independently of one another — and also un-linked from the ascendant Indo-US friendship.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership India is following this policy to our advantage — what is helping in this is a certain confidence that the Prime Minister brings to bear on his projection of India as a promotor of international peace — the voice of sanity and a balancing power.

Today the broad picture is that even as the prospects of an open warfare receded post-Cold War, the world transited to an era of proxy wars, cross border conflicts and ‘covert’ offensives. Conventional battle has given way to the ‘asymmetric warfare’ in which terrorist attacks on military and non-military targets are resorted to as a cost-effective means of wearing down a superior enemy.

Gen Qasem Suleimani apparently had a free run in Iraq planning such operations against the US bases in that country and the drone strike to take him out was ordered by President Trump himself after pro-Iran militants tried to lay seize of the US Embassy in Baghdad.

It may be mentioned that terrorists are indoctrinated in the ’cause’ they were working for and a strong motivation for standing for the cause is provided by the war cry of Jehad that Islamic radicals and other extremists have raised — making the Muslim world a festering home ground for faith-based terror in the process.

India has been at the receiving end of terror attacks carried out by Pak ISI-instigated militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish e Mohammad and Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent(AQIS).

Indian diplomacy should work on the democratic world to get it to denounce the medievalism that used religion as a tool of war and should likewise, persuade OIC chaired by Saudi Arabia to take a clear stand against countries invoking Jehad for sorting out political disputes in today’s times.

India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and has to work for this outcome considering the fact that Pakistan had become a rogue state providing safe haven to terror outfits having linkages across the Islamic spectrum.

India cannot question the right of the US to neutralise leaders of terror outfits for America’s own security and defence but it can promote wise counsel for peaceful resolutions rooted in a declared rejection of terrorist violence as an instrument of combat.

Strategic analysts are looking, from their own angles, at the possible turn of events after the assassination of the Iranian General — carried out by the US in what was a security operation against a leading terrorist known to be the kingpin of covert attacks on Americans.

Iran has threatened retaliation on a big scale but has not gone beyond firing a few missiles on a US base in Iraq so far. It is cognisant of a crippling military response from the US — if it crossed a line.

It is significant that Iran is anti-US and pro-Syria politically — which is reminiscent of the Cold War divide — while it considers ISIS as an enemy in terms of religious contradiction.

General Suleimani was reportedly acting like an advisor to President Bashar al Assad — in parallel to Russian approach of friendship towards Syria.

Iran however, has a civilisational past and it should handle its ideological and political differences with others without getting entangled into a warfare that invoked religion for its sustenance.

India has to watch out for the impact of a deteriorating Iran-US relationship on the world at large and retrieve its own economic interests in the region.

India now has a say on the world stage and our diplomacy should be able to put into play India’s balancing role — helped by its non-aligned outlook.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal.)

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Is China suppressing the corona virus infections!

American cities are on high alert as two coronavirus cases are confirmed in Chicago and Washington while 1,000 Americans have been told to evacuate Ground Zero in Wuhan.

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Coronavirus

New Delhi, Jan 27: China is facing accusations from the world community of suppressing and playing down the coronavirus outbreak and the scale of infections which some reports say now I as high as 90,000 while the official Beijing figure is just 1,975.

International media reports have said cited a nurse treating coronavirus sufferers in China who claims 90,000 people have already been infected.

A nurse wearing a protective suit and face mask treating the sick in Wuhan has claimed that 90,000 people have already been infected by the coronavirus. However, the nurse’s report has been viewed almost two million times on YouTube. In the footage, she warns people not to go outside and to refrain from celebrating the Chinese New Year.

The animal virus epidemic originated in China, where it has infected more than 1,970 people and killed 56, and has spread worldwide.

International critics are saying that the China is censoring the numbers and sanitising videos from the internet. China’s President Xi Jinping has already warned of ‘grave situation’ as killer coronavirus accelerates.

American cities are on high alert as two coronavirus cases are confirmed in Chicago and Washington while 1,000 Americans have been told to evacuate Ground Zero in Wuhan.

Canadian authorities on Saturday confirmed the first case of coronavirus – a man in his 50s from Toronto.

The countries which have reported these cases include Singapore, Malaysaia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, France, Canada, the US, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

But the Global Times revealed that vital resources, including masks and goggles, were urgently needed. The accusations of a cover-up echo the furore surrounding the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2002 when the government concealed the existence of the illness not just from the outside world but from its own people.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday declared a virus emergency in the city of 7.3 million, extending school cancellations until February 17 and cancelling all official visits to mainland China.

China has quarantined three cities in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus — encompassing a total population of some 35 million people.

Other reports say several cities are under lockdown with a combined population of 47 million including Wuhan, Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi, Jingzhou, Zhijiang, Qianjiang, Xiantao, Xianning, Huangshi, Dangyang, Enshi, Xiaogan. Jingmen and Shantou.

Reports say that Wuhan continues to be under complete lockdown. Police have been stationed at the borders of Wuhan to block the roads preventing any sort of movement into the quarantined city. The city’s pharmacies have been swamped by people wanting to stock up on medicines.

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Budget, Coronavirus to be key monitorables next week

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Stock Market Down

Mumbai, Jan 26 : The upcoming six-day trading week will keep investors on their toes due to the mega event of presentation of the Union Budget on Saturday. Much of the trading will also depend on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 56 people in China and dimmed the mood of investors globally.

Investors will take their cues most from the fiscal deficit target that the government sets for the next financial year. Amid tax collections falling below target, analysts say that the markets have already priced in the fiscal deficit to breach the target for the current year set at 3.3 per cent of the GDP.

Anindya Banerjee of Kotak Securities said: “Fear of fiscal slippage in the Union Budget has caused an outflow nearly 1.6 billion from the debt market over the past 3 weeks.”

At the same time, relentless intervention from the central bank has not allowed the rupee to appreciate as much as its peers in Asia. These are the major reasons why the rupee has become one of the weakest currencies in Asia, Banerjee added.

While the Economic survey report on Friday will provide further evidence on the extent of economic slowdown in India, expected measures to kickstart the economy in the Union Budget will provide direction to the equity markets, experts say.

Besides, investors will keep an eye during the upcoming week on the quarterly numbers of heavyweights like HDFC, Maruti Suzuki, the Bajaj twins, Bharti Airtel, SBI, ITC, Power Grid, HUL and Tech Mahindra.

Vinod Niar of Geojit Financial Service said that the market direction will depend on the actual budget announcements and the third quarters results, and that the broad market is still very solid in expectation of re-rating of valuations.

“The Q3 result had solid expectations but actual results are marginally below expectation for sectors like IT and banks, leading to cautiousness in the market. We feel that this cautious trend will be maintained in the near-term,” Nair said.

The Indian stock markets will be open for normal trading on February 1, which is a Saturday, when the Union Budget is presented to the Parliament by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

(Ravi Dutta Mishra can be contacted at [email protected])

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Bhima Koregaon Case: Tussle brews between Maharashtra, Centre

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Bhima-Koregaon violence

A day after Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar raised serious doubts over the 2018 Elgar Parishad/Koregaon-Bhima investigations, the Centre swiftly moved against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government and transferred the probe into the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Crying foul, the NCP-Congress attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government “for exceeding its brief for sheer political reasons” over the issue.

A piqued Pawar accused the BJP of harbouring “an acute fear” of being disrobed in the Koregaon-Bhima-Elgar Parishad case and chose to post-haste hand it over to the NIA.

He reiterated his demand for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct an in-depth independent investigation to “unravel the truth” over the Pune Police’s probe into the case.

“Prima facie, it seems they (Pune Police) misused their power. The NIA may have taken over the probe, but it is necessary for the state government to investigate lapses by Pune Police or whether they misused powers to frame the activists,” Pawar said.

Locking horns with the Centre, he said the fresh probe was necessary as the move to hand over the case to NIA has “aroused suspicions”, and it may have apprehended that the re-investigation could expose the former BJP state government and its hand-picked officials in the matter.

“In no way can it be said that all those who take up cudgels against injustice and atrocities by the government are naxalites, as in this case,” Pawar pointed out.

Interestingly, the Centre’s abrupt move came a day after Pawar wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and hours after Deputy CM Ajit Pawar on Friday held a meeting to review the case status and charge-sheets filed by Pune Police.

State Home Minister (NCP) Anil Deshmukh slammed the Centre saying they were scared of a fresh probe contemplated by the MVA government as it could nail the previous BJP-led regime for messing up the original investigations.

“We shall seek legal opinion in the matter before launching a fresh investigation,” said Deshmukh.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the move saying it was part of “MOSH (Modi-Shah) agenda of hate”.

“Anyone who opposed the MOSH agenda of hate is an ‘Urban Naxal’. Koregaon-Bhima is a symbol of resistance that the government’s NIA stooges can never erase,” Gandhi said in a sharp tweet.

Pawar had questioned the manner in which Pune Police probed it and claimed that the previous BJP-regime had “vengefully” implicated several Dalit and rights activists in the Elgar Parishad-Koregaon-Bhima cases, based on “trumped up” charges.

After the MVA government of Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress took office on Nov. 28, there was a change in perception of the cases lodged during the previous government.

Nevertheless, caught unawares by the Centre’s move, shortly before midnight on Friday, Deshmukh condemned the decision “to transfer the probe to NIA without any consent of the Maharashtra government.”

The NCP-Congress appear firm on setting up an SIT to re-look at the high-profile and sensitive case which could bring out skeletons of the former BJP-regime and its investigators, prompting the Centre to hastily shift it to NIA.

Pawar contended that many prominent personalities and legal luminaries such as former Supreme Court Judge P.B. Sawant, former Bombay High Court Judge B.G. Kolse-Patil and others have raised objections to the manner in which the case was probed by Pune Police in which activists were arrested from different parts of India and branded ‘urban Naxals’.

The NCP chief pointed out that the then CM Fadnavis had not described those arrested activists as ‘urban Naxals’ and emphasised that the cases registered against them are not based on facts.

On Dec. 31, 2017, a large Elgar Parishad was organised in Pune’s Shaniwar Wada which was addressed by top leaders of Lefits, social and Dalit intellectual, the Kabir Kala Manch, the banned CPI (Maoist), its frontal organisations and others which allegedly triggered the violence the next day in Koregaon-Bhima.

On Jan. 1, 2018, caste riots erupted when over 100,000 Dalits converged to celebrate the historic Jan. 1, 1818 victory of a small 800-strong force of the Mahar caste of the Bombay Native Infantry of the British East India Company over a battalion of the huge 28,000-strong army of the Peshwa Bajirao II in Koregaon-Bhima after a 12-hour battle.

The two incidents proved to be a watershed in the state’s recent political history and a chasm developed as the then BJP-led government went hammer-and-tongs after the Leftist groups and their leaders.

Later during June and August 2018, many prominent Dalit and Leftist activists and intellectuals were arrested in a nationwide swoop by Pune Police.

They included: Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut — all nabbed in June 2018 — and charged with links to Maoist groups.

Subsequently in August 2018, Pune Police arrested P. Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha on similar charges, besides naming others such as Milind Teltumbde, Rituparn Goswami, Prashanto Bose, as “underground, absconded and wanted accused” in the case.

It was the Pune Police’s contention that these persons/groups supported, funded and organized the Elgar Parishad as part of a larger conspiracy to create social and political unrest in the country, assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wage a war against the country and overthrow the democratically-elected government.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])

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