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The new team in Washington surveys West Asia Trump leaves behind

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

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Joe Biden

New Delhi, Nov 29: For the new team being announced by the Biden administration any innovation can only follow repair work of the considerable wreckage that is being left behind by the outgoing team.

At this moment of transition, what construct does one place on the outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s participation in the cloak-and-dagger meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in the mega city of Neom being built on the Red Sea? The drama of this meeting was heightened by Netanyahu’s office denying the meeting in tones which seemed to suggest that the Israelis were not busting their guts to keep the meeting secret. A pretense of secrecy was essential because otherwise ‘MBS’ would be in ‘trouble’.

Netanyahu’s Education Minister, Yoav Galant, could not contain his joy at the “amazing achievement” because the “Sunni world” was joining the Israel-US alliance to counter “Iranian Shiite extremism”.

This Shia-Sunni confrontation, real or simulated, has been the game ever since the Shah was toppled in Iran. Why then this secrecy now? Why is MBS so scared being seen in an embrace with Netanyahu on Saudi soil? Because his people will find out? Do his people matter? But it turns out that human rights is an article of faith with the incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This may well be a source of anxiety not just for Saudi Arabia but all monarchies and authoritarian systems. Are there any in our vicinity?

A hint about MBS’s source of anxiety was available in the other crucial meeting the Saudi king had with President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Turkish strongman is part of a quadrangle which both, Washington (the incoming administration) and MBS, Netanyahu too, should by analyzing.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, it was elementary that creating a distance between Moscow and Beijing would remain a US strategic goal. But George W Bush and his deluded neo-cons asked for the moon — full spectrum global dominance into the American century. The financial crisis of 2008 rapped them hard on the knuckles. American decline was well underway when Trump greased the downward slide even more effectively.

The evolving Biden team will contemplate at the menacing quadrangle I mentioned at the outset. To begin with, Moscow and Beijing have never been closer. The duet spotted the potential of Iran too, and included it in the club. After all, Washington is just about to dust up the Iranian nuclear file for a resumption of a conversation with Tehran.

No sooner had Trump lost the election, when Imran Khan was on his maiden trip to Kabul. This, when the US troop withdrawal from the Afghan capital had run into the sort of snags which US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to sort out. Was the Pakistan Prime Minister now effectively being positioned to handle the Afghan file? This became a very real anxiety in both Tehran and New Delhi. But Iran being re-invited on the nuclear file, mollifies it somewhat. How happy New Delhi should be with its exertions in the Quad (US, Australia, Japan, India) only time can tell. The Japanese Foreign Minister has already clarified: our membership of the Quad is not directed against any country.

So, while the US was on the Trump rollercoaster and coping with the social mayhem and galloping Covid, other countries were moving increasingly in concert. There has been so much continuous chanting of the Shia-Sunni conflict that real and abiding antipathies have been lost sight of.

A convenient point of departure to explain this narrative are the two events in December, 1979, which rattled the Saudis, indeed the world — Ayatollah Khomeini’s return, signaling the Iranian revolution. Around the same date, an anti-monarchy, Sunni, an extreme version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Juhayman al-Otaybi, defied the Saudi state by occupying the holiest Muslim mosque of Mecca.

Unable to flush out Otaybi and his armed supporters, Saudis sought Western help. A situation emerged which to a non Muslim would read like a situation comedy. Since non Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, US and French soldiers had to be converted to Islam to enter the mosque and accomplish the holy task of killing Otaybi and his men. This “rebellion within” gives Saudis nightmares. But they feel more secure externalizing the threat. They have persistently targeted Iran and Shiaism as threats to themselves, Israel, indeed, the West. When did you last hear of the 15 days siege of the Mecca Mosque?

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

Incalculable Saudi wealth, particularly after the quadrupling of oil prices following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, had the Western Military Industrial Complex salivating on Arab petro dollars. The oil rich Sheikhs are, by formal agreements, dependent on Western arms. Their wealth plus their links to Israel give them considerable control on Western media which has quite shockingly harped only on the Shia-Sunni conflict.

When the Arab Spring dethroned Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s Prime Minister. Coming to power of a Brother in Egypt caused the Saudis to load their camels with their billions and turn up in Cairo to stabilize Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s coup in Cairo. Brothers in power in Egypt was anathema to the Israelis too because the Hamas in Gaza would now have help from all sides. Brother in Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. They were ideologically coherent with Hamas.

At the Shia end, the Hezbullah in Lebanon, Iran, the Alawi elements in the Syrian Army, the Shia majority in Iraq, Houthis of Yemen are all supporting the Palestinian cause to the hilt.

No, it is not the Shia Sunni divide which is bothering MBS and Netanyahu. What worries them deeply is the Shia-Sunni combine zeroing in on the Israelis and the Wahabis in unlikely comradeship.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Farmers’ demonstrations in Delhi turn violent as protester clash with the police

Violence broke out in Delhi on Republic Day as protesters in farmers’ tractor rally marched into the national capital, breaking barricades and clashing with the police. The Delhi Police resorted to tear gas shells and lathi-charge to contain the situation. Deviating from the designated route, a section of farmers entered the Red Fort and hoisted flags

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Red Fort Farmers

Violence marred farmers’ tractor rally on Tuesday as protesters clashed with police at multiple places in Delhi and entered the iconic Red Fort.

Protesting farmers deviated from pre-decided routes, which prompted police personnel to resort to lathicharge and tear gas. Many cops were injured in the violence that broke out amid the 72nd Republic Day celebrations in India.

Protesting farmers at Delhi border points clashed with police early Tuesday morning as they broke barricades to force their way into the city much ahead of the time the cops had told them to enter. Thousands of farmers entered Delhi from Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri border points amid heavy deployment of police.

Delhi Police had on Sunday allowed the tractor rally after the annual Republic Day parade. The protesters were told they can’t disrupt the celebrations at Rajpath even as the farmers insisted their parade will be “peaceful”.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at several Delhi border points since November 28, demanding a repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee on minimum support price for their crops.

Enacted in September last year, the three laws have been projected by the Centre as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed their apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP (minimum support price) and do away with the “mandi” (wholesale market) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

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West Bengal one of the most dynamic states of India: Moroccan Ambassador

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Mohamed Maliki

Kolkata, Jan 25 : Mohamed Maliki, Morocco’s Ambassador to India, shared the vision behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal, consolidating bilateral ties with India in the years to come.

Edited excerpts:

Q. What are the reasons behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal and how important is this for the bilateral relations?

A. India is a vast territory, almost a continent, with a large colourful diversity in terms of culture, traditions and languages, resulting in providing huge economic capabilities and opportunities, among other things. The State of West Bengal remains one of the most dynamic states of India with a sound economy. It is to be recalled here that the capital city of this state, Kolkata, was also the Capital of India from 1772 until 1911. It was and still is one of the oldest and important centres for trade in the Indian sub-continent. With the steady and positive development, in recent years, the relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of India had been undergoing, it was quite important to find new levers capable of enlarging the scope of cooperation between the two countries. In this perspective, reinforcing the cooperation between Morocco and other important states and regions of India presented serious advantages to take the bilateral relations to higher levels by creating new opportunities. Therefore, opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal became almost a natural step to focus on in this regard.

Once this idea ripened, it was not quite difficult to find the right person to occupy this post for the first time in West Bengal, in the person of Rashmi Chowdhary, who belongs to a well-established industrial family, which has developed close ties with Morocco. Known to be a dedicated woman in whatever she undertakes, combined to many other assets, the Moroccan competent authorities found it quite easy to approve her appointment as the first ever Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Morocco in Kolkata.

This new Office will certainly contribute in developing better understanding about Morocco to the people of West Bengal by projecting its rich cultural heritage, its civilisation of not least than 12 centuries and by enhancing more economic cooperation and encouraging more bilateral investments between the West Bengal and different regions of Morocco.

Q. What are your incentives on the positive evolution of the bilateral ties between India and Morocco, especially in the Covid-19 era?

A. The relations between the Morocco and India go to centuries back and have always been excellent and based on mutual understanding and respect. The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1957, that is one year after the independence of Morocco, from French protectorate. The relations have deepened even more in recent years, especially after the historical visit of King of Morocco to India, in October 2015, and his memorable meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during which both the leaders decided to elevate Morocco-India relationship to a new level of a genuine Strategic Partnership.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the cooperation between Rabat and New Delhi has increased. In fact, Morocco was able to purchase six million Hydroxychloroquine tablets from India, in May 2020. This helped the country not only to fight against the pandemic, but also to extend its support to many African countries by offering medicines and medical equipments as a gesture of solidarity and good will. Also, Morocco was among the very first countries to avail of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, following the directly negotiated deal concluded on a commercial basis between the two parties.

Q. The bilateral trade witnessed a steady growth between India and Morocco to reach USD 2 billion in 2019. What needs to be done to increase the bilateral exchange to encourage more investments from both sides?

A. If Morocco-India political relations are excellent and are constantly being reinforced, it has been noticed that the bilateral trade did not benefit from this considerable advantage and did not grow as it should have, given the potentials that exist in both countries. Despite the encouraging fact that the bilateral exchanges have registered an average of US $1.6 billion yearly for the last decade to hit a new record during the year 2019 by reaching US $2 billion, it doesn’t reflect the ambitions the two countries have, especially that Morocco hopes to see India among its top 15 economic partners by 2025.

This ambition has been reiterated and underlined by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries, during the bilateral consultations they held on the October 23, 2020, and during which a special focus has been given to the development of the economic relations and the facilitation of business opportunities. That is why, the opening of this Consulate in West Bengal constitutes an important step towards achieving this objective.

I would like to recall, in this regard, that India remains the largest receiver of Moroccan public investment in Asia, especially in the fertilizer and pharmaceutical sectors. Likewise, in the last four years, the number of Indian companies in Morocco has doubled. They cover many sectors, which were, till recently, a kind of privileged areas for Moroccan companies and their partners mainly from Europe, such as construction, pharmaceuticals, automotive, water and soda bottling, chemicals, IT, health, tourism, hospitality and others.

It is also important to mention that in order to give a real impetus to their economic relations, the Indian and Moroccan Governments signed and MoU in February 2019 facilitating the visa process for their respective business communities. As a result, business people of both countries have been granted a longer validity for their entry visas to both countries.

Q. Have you had dialogue with Indian policymakers to enter the trade zone near Tanger-Med Port as the area is emerging as a promising business hub in Morocco?

A. Everyone knows that business people look more for political stability, ease of doing business, economic reforms, cost of production, incentives provided by countries to foreign investors, including freedom of profit transfer and the availability of world class infrastructures such as new generation ports and airports and competitive logistic hubs.

The port of Tanger-Med has become, in few years, the first port in processing containers in the Mediterranean region. It has imposed itself as a global logistics hub, located on the Strait of Gibraltar and connected, so far, to 186 global ports in different corners of the world, including many ports in India.

Few Indian companies already have their industrial units in the free industrial zone of Tanger-Med in few sectors like the fibre-optics, textile and plastic industry. Others are considering seriously to have a presence there. The Indian users will also benefit from the strategic location of Morocco at the crossroad of Africa, Europe and the Arab world. This port could be a platform for India towards these regions and especially Africa, in which India is ambitious to have a more important presence both in terms of investments and bilateral trade. But Tanger-Med is only one among other logistic, industrial hubs and free zones in Morocco. Few others are also coming-up especially in the southern provinces of Morocco, such as the Atlantic Port of Dakhla.

Q. Are there any joint ventures in the health sector between Morocco and India, following the Covid-19 outbreak?

A. Well, one of the pillars on which the Strategic Partnership between India and Morocco is built is the health sector. The specificity is that the cooperation in the health sector between the two countries was not dictated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was discussed, decided and implemented a few years back.

During a Ministerial visit to India, an agreement was signed by the Governments of the two countries to enhance cooperation in several areas of health sector, namely in the non-communicable diseases, including child cardiovascular diseases and cancer, drug regulation and pharmaceutical quality control, communicable diseases and maternal, child and neonatal health. This agreement also includes other areas of cooperation such as hospital twinning for exchange of good practices and training in administration and management of health services. During the same occasion, a MoU related to the cooperation in the field of telemedicine was signed between the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in Puducherry in India and the Mohamed VI University Hospital in Marrakech in Morocco. One of the focus areas under this MoU is the technical support in controlling epidemics.

This is to say that the contact between the Indian and Moroccan health officials was persistent and uninterrupted even before the Covid-19 outbreak. This dynamic did not benefit only to the public sector but to the private sector too and looks for opportunities within these frameworks. A number of Indian leading companies in the pharmaceutical industry, like Sun Pharma and Cipla, have also chosen Morocco to expand their activities. It is worth mentioning that the Indian business community, particularly in the medicine sector, has become well-informed and conscious about the advantages of having a footprint in Morocco because of the easiness in doing business and in facilitating market access for all regions of Africa and Europe as well. I must add that big names in the global pharmaceutical industry are progressively looking at Morocco as one of the best industrial hubs in Africa and in the Arab world.

–IANS

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Why Chinese involvement in financial frauds in India is alarming

G.K. Goswami Inspector General ATS said Xu Xunfu’s business visa had expired in July 2020, while Li Teng Li’s tourist visa expired in September 2020.

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financial frauds

New Delhi, Jan 25 : Within a span of 15 days, two major financial fraud cases involving Chinese nationals have come to the forefront. Soon after the Delhi Police unearthed a transnational malware and fraud syndicate and arrested two Chinese women in a gang of 12 in multiple raids starting January 13, two Chinese have been caught by the UP ATS from Noida for fraudulent monetary transactions.

UP ATS arrested two Chinese citizens in money laundering case, fraudulently  carrying fake SIM card - The India Print : theindiaprint.com, The Print
Two Chinese nationals arrested by UP ATS for money laundering worth crores

This is cause for alarm as it raises apprehensions that multiple Chinese syndicates have been operating within the country to cheat and defraud Indian citizens and capture personal data of unsuspecting people for illegitimate purposes.

When it arrested Chinese nationals Chaohong Deng Daoyong, 27 and Wu Jiazhi, 54, the Delhi Police said the accused were installing malware in devices of people in the garb of a multi-level marketing application.

Police said that around 40,000 confirmed victims have been identified who have been cheated of crores in two months. Almost Rs 4.75 crores of cheated money has been blocked in various accounts and more than Rs. 25 lakhs recovered in cash from the arrested Chinese nationals.

“The malicious app was also making millions of Indian users follow thousands of social media accounts of unknown origin and ownership, with huge potential of future misuse of this by a foreign entity,” said Anyesh Roy, DCP Crime Crime.

Now the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad (UPATS) has arrested Xu Xunfu a.k.a July and Li Teng Li a.k.a Alice from Gautam Buddha Nagar, following a red corner notice against them by the Interpol.

Additional Director General (law and order) Prashant Kumar said, “The UPATS arrested the two for purchasing SIM cards by submitting forged documents and then making fraudulent monetary transactions with those SIMs via banks. It is for the first time that the ATS has arrested Chinese nationals.”

He further said, “We traced the duo after interrogating 14 persons arrested last week from Delhi and different parts of Uttar Pradesh in a similar fraud.”

G.K. Goswami Inspector General ATS said Xu Xunfu’s business visa had expired in July 2020, while Li Teng Li’s tourist visa expired in September 2020.

The Delhi Police have also hinted two Chinese nationals Yangqing Zhang and Bao Peng , are the kingpins of this criminal conspiracy to cheat and defraud Indian citizens and hack into their devices through malicious mobile applications. This is a serious concern as kingpins of Chinese origin are hatching the conspiracy from locations outside India

Not just financial frauds but alleged Chinese involvement have also been claimed by Delhi police in a spying case as on September 14 last year, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police had arrested 61-year-old freelance journalist Rajeev Sharma, for allegedly working with Chinese intelligence.

During Sharma’s police remand, a Chinese woman Qing Shi and her Nepalese partner Sher Singh alias Raj Bohra were also arrested. They were allegedly found supplying the scribe with huge amounts of money routed through hawala channels for conveying sensitive information to Chinese Intelligence, DCP Special Cell Sanjeev Yadav had said.

This is why the Indian Police force in a coordinated manner is keeping extra vigil on the working of these fraudster syndicates involving Chinese nationals.

(Zafar Abbas could be reached at [email protected])

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