Tag Archives: Year end review

Make a New Year’s Resolution

On Wednesday December 29, 2010, I heard Rick Santelli proclaim on CNBC that “This is the best country in the world and we are going to fight for it to keep it great and solvent”. This was a couple of minutes after he warned, “…I tell you what Joe, in the next couple of years I think we are going to have an internal conflict in this country of huge proportions…” Rick Santelli, the voice of the Bond Market on CNBC, is better known as one of the founding spirits of the Tea Party.

The Tea Party was the most important phenomenon in America in 2010. I am less concerned about the message, the political views or the social stance of the Tea Party. What is relevant to the rest of the World and to India in particular is the deep passion of the people who came together to form the Tea Party, their outrage at the direction in which the country was headed and the arrogance with which they saw the political establishment treat the American people. The Tea Party came together to take back their country. And they did in the November 2010 elections.

In sharp contrast is the ennui in Europe and in India. Europe seems headed towards economic, social, and perhaps demographic disaster.  The desperate state of Europe’s youth, the highest-educated generation in Europe’s history, is well described in the New York Times article Europe’s Young Grow Agitated Over Future Prospects. Europeans have realized their social system is a “Ponzi scheme,” in the words of an expert in fiscal policy quoted in the article. Yet, the European people are quiet, supine and inclined to wither away in relative silence.

In recent months, we have seen a massive corruption scheme come to light in India. The entire Indian Establishment has been shown to be a giant web of cronyism – from cabinet ministers to politicians to TV anchors to corporate lobbyists. If you are inside this web, you sit pretty. If you are outside, you face the doubling of the price of onions, the most basic food in India. This is on top of a chronic food inflation virus that is eating away at the incomes of all but those in the politico-business circle. At the same time, one hears that the education system in India, especially the College-University system, is in serious decay. Degrees are proliferating, students are graduating but the education keeps getting less and less relevant to the needs of the job market. And on top of all this, the Indian Government is giving away enormous sums of money in the name of protecting the poor.

The Indian middle class and the poor are getting caught in a vicious pincer. Yet, you do not see the middle class in India expressing their outrage. There is no evidence of either a spontaneous or an organized movement by the middle class in India to pull down the corrupt or to launch reforms that will cut down on government waste. Tea might be a great Indian export, but there is no Tea Party in India.

Unfortunately, this ennui of Indian society has been imported by Indian-Americans into America. The current downtrend has been rough on many Indian-Americans. In some sense, Indian Americans are more vulnerable. They have no political power; they are known to be quiet people. There is little risk of a backlash if Indian-Americans are laid off or fired.

Ironically, the success of a few Indian-Americans and the current media darling status of India have made it more difficult for the average Indian-American to argue unfair treatment. We forget and most don’t realize that the few Indian-Americans that have made it to the top are people who succeeded from the inside and often with the help of mentors within their own circles.

But, despite their successes and troubles, the Indian-American community has not   thrown up a vocal activist in the genre of Rick Santelli.

This is surprising. After all, being a “loud mouth” is an Indian characteristic. The Indian protest against British rule began with “loud mouth” lawyers, professors and journalists expressing their anger in print and in political forums.

But today’s Indian-American middle class does not exhibit this spirit. Without this spirit, the Indian-America community will remain on the periphery of American society, a quiet, affluent but powerless and invisible microcosm. That would be a pity.

It is necessary for each Indian-American to make a resolution this New Year to fight for some goal or against some problem. Speak out fervently and rationally for or against issues that they care about. No issue is too small or too large. It is important that you protest, in person, over the phone or via email. Share your outrage with your friends and build a movement.

If you don’t fight for what you believe, you truly doom yourself and your community to obscurity.

Peace and Stability in 2011: Turbulence will Continue

From the point of view of international peace and stability, 2010 ended on a positive note with the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the new START treaty that will further reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 in seven years. However, in view of the ongoing conflicts and possible conflagrations, 2011 is likely to be a turbulent year.

The strategic stalemate in Afghanistan will continue with the Taliban and NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. While U.S. forces may be expected to step up drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the NWFP and FATA areas, the results are not likely to appear justifiable in view of the diplomatic fallout in Pakistan. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. Hence, it will be difficult for the U.S. to begin its planned drawdown of troops in July 2011.

The military stand-off along the 38th Parallel in Korea has further exacerbated the already unstable situation in East Asia caused by increasing Chinese assertiveness that appears out of character with its stated objective of a peaceful rise. Though the international community may be able to ensure that a major conflict does not erupt again between the two Koreas, the sub-region will remain volatile unless the Chinese use their influence with North Korea to persuade it to back off from the path of confrontation. As of now they do not appear inclined to do so.

Turmoil in West Asia will continue through 2011 as Israel stubbornly refuses to halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian militias are getting increasingly restive. Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the vaguely stated threats of several of its neighbours to follow suit will continue to add to instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, in particular, may fund Pakistan’s nuclear expansion programme as a hedging strategy against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Such a course of action would be a disastrous blow to international non-proliferation efforts.

It can be deduced form recent arrests in the U.K. and elsewhere that international fundamentalist terrorists may succeed in launching another spectacular strike in the West. A successful strike would resurrect the al Qaeda and enable it to rally its wavering cadres. All in all, 2011 will see a continuation of ongoing conflicts without major let up.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)

Continuing Instability in South Asia Hampering Development

Though this past year has been relatively peaceful in South Asia, the unstable regional security environment, India’s unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, and the continuing internal security challenges are a cause for concern. After West Asia, this region is perhaps the most trouble prone region in the world. With a history of four conflicts in 60 years and three nuclear-armed adversaries continuing to face off, South Asia has often been described as a nuclear flash-point.

The regional security environment in South Asia continues to be marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war despite the induction of additional troops in 2010 by the U.S.-led NATO-ISAF coalition forces. Pakistan’s halfhearted struggle against the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan and the Pushtun heartland, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation, the unstable civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security threat to India. The collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan as also Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons are serious issues of concern.

Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Bangladesh’s emergence as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger a new wave of terrorism if left unchecked. The Maoist ascendancy in Nepal and its adverse impact on Nepal’s fledgling democracy, as also Nepal’s new found inclination to seek neutrality between India and China, are a blow to what has historically been a stable India-Nepal relationship. Simmering discontentment in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime is gathering momentum and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilize the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan and political instability in the CARs are undermining development and governance.

Other vitiating factors impacting regional stability in South Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking. India’s standing as a regional power with global power ambitions, and one that aspires to a seat on the UN Security Council has been seriously compromised by its inability to successfully manage ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood, singly or in concert with its strategic partners.

These conflicts are undermining South Asia’s efforts towards socio-economic development and poverty alleviation by hampering governance and vitiating the investment climate. Here’s hoping that the new year will bring in better opportunities to reduce tensions in the region, and improve the socio-economic conditions.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)