Bill Clinton Should Come Clean on Donors

The relationship between the U.S. and the Sheikh states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been close ever since the 1960s, when Washington took over from London as the principal guarantor of the reign of these monarchs. Hence it is no surprise that the U.S. policy in the Mideast has almost invariably been a compound of two interests, which intersect more often than they compete: that of Israel and the other (those of the GCC countries). The State of Israel is core to U.S. strategic interests, and is the Knowledge Superpower of the region, accounting for more than 95% of its hi-technology creations. Were Israel to have normal relations with the Sheikh states, the latter would benefit via the infusion of technology and intellectual resources that the Jewish state would bring to the table. This columnist has never hidden his view – even while in Tehran or Damascus that the Jewish people are as an entirety the most gifted in the world. Although small in number, they have gifted the world numerous technologies and improvements that have made life longer and better for billions.

To go beyond the region to India, were the world’s most populous democracy to spend as much on Israeli agricultural technology (especially dry land farming) as it does on defense equipment; 300 million citizens of India would not need to go to bed hungry each night. However, while defense is attractive to policymakers, agriculture is not. Unhappily for the region, the U.S. has hardly used its influence to nudge the GCC towards more normal ties with Israel. Were this to happen, the benefits from the interaction would soon be so obvious that it would silence the domestic opposition to closer relations with the Jewish state. Instead of seeking to leverage upwards their own skills, the GCC states are focused on propitiating domestic constituencies that are increasingly becoming out of touch with the wishes of youth in their countries. The spread of the internet has combined with better knowledge of the English language to create in young Arabs a desire to compete in the global marketplace on equal terms, and not simply through the sale of a single – and finite – natural resource. However, the school curricula within the GCC remain archaic and unsuited to a modernized economy. Hence there is a growing disconnect between the young and those making decisions for them, a gap that is generating a sense of insecurity in ruling groups across the region.

Instead of improving the educational infrastructure, enhancing language skills, and seeking to diversify away from petro-products, the GCC states are satiating their insecurity by seeking the overthrow of those they see (often correctly) as foes of their continued power. These are the non-monarchist rulers of nearby states. Muammar Gaddafi was one ruler such, as was Saddam Hussein, while Bashar Assad is another. Two out of the three were eliminated, and the attention is now getting concentrated on removing the third.

Neither Iraq nor Syria is any safer for the GCC potentates than they were under the previous management. The processes of democracy have made Iraq the second major Shia-dominated state within the region after Iran. Theology has brought the two together, trumping geopolitical considerations, which mandate that Baghdad ought to leverage its possession of Shia holy sites to take over the international leadership of the Shias from Tehran. Instead, Baghdad has become a contented Avis, which gloried in being second-best to Hertz. Given the challenge that Shia Islam is now facing from the Sunni-controlled GCC (at least two of whose members, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are not merely Sunni but Wahabbi), it is no surprise that Iraq has resisted the U.S. calls to team up against Iran. As has been mentioned by this analyst in other articles, the members of the NATO seem to have joined with the Wahabbi-Sunni monarchies in the Middle East to battle against the Shia. The U.S., for example, has been vocal about giving a disproportionate share in Iraq’s oil wealth to Sunni Arabs, even while being silent over the far more egregious discrimination meted out to the Shia in Saudi Arabia. Although more than 70% of Saudi oil is in the Shia belt, members of the sect gets less than 2% of the subsidies that go to Sunnis and Wahabbis.

Again, while there has been a rising drumbeat of State Department condemnation of Syria, the response to the repression of the Shia population in Bahrain has been so muted as to be effectively non-existent. As for Iran, although most of the population despises the mullahcracy, the people as a whole are being demonized as a threat to the international order.

Not only in the USINPAC blogs but in other blogs (such as or, this analyst has been critical of the uncritical welcome given to the so-called “Arab Spring”: from the start, forecasting early on that it would end in a “Wahabbi Winter”, which it has. Taking a leaf from the Jihadists in Kashmir, who use the argot of human values and universal right to camouflage their actual intent to set up a Talibanized system of governance, the Wahabbi elements who were assisted by the NATO to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi have now come into the open, imposing their own version of Sharia Law and killing, torturing, and detaining their theological, social and other foes, all this to near-complete silence from Western media or chancelleries. The Libyan example ought to have served as a wake-up call to the U.S., warning policymakers in Washington away from helping the GCC Sheikhs to fulfill their personal goal of removing regional rivals from office and life. Instead, the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton has joined with the rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in calling for the head of Bashar Assad. Muammar Gaddafi, who had surrendered his WMD and his intelligence secrets to the U.S. and to European countries, ought not to have been subjected to the military assault that took place for more than six months, before he was killed like a rodent near a drain. Such an ending suited the interests of the GCC rulers, but not at all NATO, which has today shown to the world that the surrender of WMD is no guarantee for safety. It is a small wonder that Syria, Iran, and North Korea are very unlikely to go the Gaddafi way. And in Egypt, after more than three decades upholding U.S. and Israeli security interests, Hosni Mubarak was abandoned to a Wahabbi mob that hates him for precisely this reason. If the military is now seeking to prosecute American citizens, it is because they know that doing by so is a surefire way of getting the appreciation of the Wahabbis, no matter how sweetly the latter croon to the U.S. and EU policymakers and journalists. Had Mubarak been given the sanctuary that Yemen’s former president has got for the moment, it would have been proof that NATO stands besides its friends rather than feeds them to the wolves once their use gets over.

Although this may not be welcome news to the lynch mob now gathering force inside the State Department, Bashar Assad is far more preferable than the motley crew of Wahabbists that are being backed with weapons and cash by the Sheikhs. The Wahabbi fanatics will cheerfully accept assistance from any quarter. However, once they succeed in ensconcing themselves, they will resist pressure the way the Taliban did after then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel and then Unocal consultant Zalmay Khalilzad helped it to power during the 1990s.
Today, the warlords roaming across Libya are obedient to no one barring themselves. The GCC Sheikhs have created a monster that will soon turn on them, the way the Taliban did on the U.S. after it came to office in 1996. Adopting a policy towards the region identical to the (flawed and self-defeating) wish list of the GCC sheikhs is a prescription for disaster. And this is where Bill Clinton comes in. The buzz amongst Wahabbis in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait is that they have made munificent donations to the foundations and programs headed or mentored by the former U.S. President, and that it is this money that is proving to be decisive in shaping U.S. policy towards the region, and making it travel in lockstep with the GCC monarchs. Certainly such a smear must be untrue. To prove that it is so, Bill Clinton needs to make transparent the funds and other moneys that his foundations and other institutions have got from sources in the Mideast, whether directly or through fronts based in other countries. Those who claim that the U.S. policy can be purchased, the way they can in some other parts of the world, need to be shown up as being purveyors of falsehood. Come clean, President Clinton. The world knows that Hillary and you are a team. Help her by showing that the charge that you are excessively reliant on funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are wrong.

U.S.-Iran Imbroglio: India’s Neutral Stance

India’s stance seems to be that of being sandwiched between a rock and a hard place. While ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry) states that Iran continues to be a vital business ally as India’s demand for commercial energy including hydrocarbon is increasing. Further the Iran-India trade is expected to hit $30 billion by 2015. Tracing the events heating up over the last couple of months: Iran, Israel, and the U.S., India’s diplomatic position seems be precarious like that of a cat treading on a hot tin roof. Previously, India’s decision to go ahead and continue importing oil from Iran caused a whir in Washington. Nicholas Burns – former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs wrote in ‘The Diplomat’ stating, “This is bitterly disappointing news for those of us who have championed a close relationship with India. And, it represents a real setback in the attempt by the last three American Presidents to establish a close and strategic partnership with successive Indian governments.” He added, “The Indian government’s ill-advised statement last week that it will continue to purchase oil from Iran is a major setback for the U.S. attempt to isolate the Iranian government over the nuclear issue.” He spoke about India’s reliance on Iran for 12% of the oil imports.

India could be viewed as being on its way to alienation and quagmire with this latest decision with Iran; it’s literally being coerced into choosing between Iran and the U.S. Its diplomatic stance on the current scenario seems to be confusing to most minds. Iran seems recalcitrant and resilient about its intent to go nuclear and the world vehemently feels otherwise. Keeping in mind, what India shares with the U.S. at this juncture, a ‘strategic’ partnership, India cannot let go off its dependence on the import while the U.S. has been anti-Iran due to its theocratic administration.

India’s diplomacy has always been on the mild and sensitized diplomatic route based on progress and peace. It is worth noting that despite its ties with Israel on tourism, agriculture, and technology, it has still been vocal about the Palestinian cause and need for sovereignty. After the thawing of the Cold War phase, India diplomatic relations with the U.S. turned towards progress and headed to the 123 Agreement signing of the US-India civil nuclear cooperation deal in 2005. As a result, India progresses as a paradigm nation of non-ritzy diplomacy keeping its focus on maintaining a common ground for one and all.

India’s Policies are Mired in Systemic Weaknesses

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had given its approval to the establishment of the National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC) in mid-January, two years after it was first conceived following the Mumbai terror strike on November 26, 2008. A month later, almost ten chief ministers have expressed strong opposition to the NCTC on the grounds that the states were not consulted and that the functioning of the proposed NCTC will undermine the federal structure of India’s Constitution.

This opposition comes despite the fact that the structure of the NCTC approved by the CCS is a watered down version of the form in which the NCTC had been originally conceived by the Home Minister, Mr. P Chidambaram following the Mumbai terror strikes. In an address to officers of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on December 23, 2009, the Home Minister had envisioned the NCTC as an organisation capable of “preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators.”

The NCTC had been envisaged as an umbrella organisation, which would exercise control over agencies like the NIA, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the National Security Guard (NSG). It will now be placed under the Intelligence Bureau and the existing Multi-Agency centre (MAC) will be subsumed in it.

The NCTC will draw up and coordinate counter-terrorism plans, integrate intelligence gathering and coordinate with all existing investigating and intelligence agencies. The NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid), which was approved by the CCS in June 2011, will provide a data bank of 20 database like travel records, immigration details and income tax records as inputs to the NCTC.
Unless the NCTC is empowered to conduct counter-terrorism operations like its U.S. counterpart, on which the Indian version was expected to be based, urban terrorism will continue to remain a cause for concern and much will remain to be done in the planning and execution of India’s counter-terrorism policies, the execution of which is mired in systemic weaknesses.

Even though recent terrorist strikes have been sporadic and have been spaced out in time, the overall impression that prevails is that of an unstable internal security environment in which the initiative lies with the terrorist organisations and they are able to strike at will. The government needs to review its largely reactive policies and adopt pro-active measures to fight terrorism, particularly the variety that emanates from the soil of inimical neighbouring countries.

India’s response to the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 was slow and laborious and poorly coordinated among the Central and the State governments and their various agencies. Coastal security was virtually non-existent; the Marine Police were too few in number to effectively patrol the vast area entrusted to them; they were ill-equipped and inadequately trained; and, there was poor coordination between the Coast Guard and the Marine Police. It took far too long to begin flushing out operations and then to eliminate the nine terrorists who were holed up at three separate locations.

The government must formulate a comprehensive approach, with all organs of the state coming together to implement a national-level counter-terrorism strategy to fight terrorism. The government must draw up a national-level strategy that is inter-ministerial, inter-agency and inter-departmental in character. Such a strategy must also balance the interests of the Central and the State governments.

It must be ensured that the counter-terrorism policy is based on strong but egalitarian laws. India’s experiments with POTA, TADA and UAPA have failed to deliver the desired results. Laws must be just and humane and must not be designed to either be vindictive towards or shield any particular community or religious denomination. The experience of many other countries has proved that it is possible to formulate strong yet egalitarian counter-terrorism laws. The U.S. established a powerful Department of Homeland Security following the 9/11 strikes and there has not been a major terrorist attack since then.

One major source of the lack of a coordinated approach is the gross disconnect between how the Central and the State governments view counter-terrorism; there are glaring disparities in the views held in Delhi and the State capitals. The Constitution must be amended to move “law and order” from the State List to the Concurrent List so that the Central Government can act on its own initiative when necessary, particularly in the case of externally-sponsored terrorism. And, it is time the government bifurcated the internal security function of the Ministry of Home Affairs into a separate ministry headed by a cabinet minister.

Besides prevention through accurate ‘humint’ and ‘techint’ intelligence gathering, successful counter-terrorism requires the effective intelligence penetration of terrorist groups so that their leadership can be systematically neutralised by an empowered anti-terrorism agency. Comprehensive planning and better stage management are necessary for the quick elimination of a group of terrorists during a strike while the terrorists are on a killing spree.

Post-incident investigation is aimed at unraveling the identities of the planners and the plotters and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the incident of terrorism. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) must be reconstituted as it lacks teeth in its present form. It should be re-modeled on the U.S. FBI to give it both preventive and investigative powers. While there is no need to blindly ape any country, there is no harm in learning from the best practices abroad and incorporating them into Indian policies.

India’s intelligence coordination and assessment apparatus at the national level and counter-terrorism policies remain mired in the days of innocence. We are now living in the age of ‘new terrorism’ that is far more violent and virulent than before and policies must keep pace with the emerging developments. Also, the government must enlarge the scope of its counter-terrorism policy to covertly eliminate the leaders of terrorist organisations abroad who are actively engaged in sponsoring terrorism in India so as to eliminate the problem at its roots.

Be a Good Boy, Study Hard, and Start a Business

“My son got an A-minus in mathematics! He has brought shame on the family!”

Parody it may be, but sentiments such as this strike so close to the Indian bone that countless comedy programs have at some point featured a cartoonish parent scolding their child for delivering even a modicum less than perfection.  Indians in India, for all their other virtues and talents, have historically not been highly forgiving of failure.  While this attitude can be a fantastic foundation for a disciplined work ethic, it is not necessarily the optimal trait for building a robust technology startup ecosystem in India.  That requires a certain fearlessness and assiduousness in equal measure.  However, instilling the entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ attitude is one of America’s great virtues and gifts to the world.

Sadly, Administration rhetoric regarding India’s IT services industry has been unfriendly and contrarian to this spirit to say the least.  Yet it is not for nothing that most of America’s technology conglomerates— Intel, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Motorola, and others—not only have a presence in India but conduct high-tech R&D there as well.  Given the size of India’s aggregate population and its pool of engineering talent, developing a startup biome as a next step would represent a major opportunity for both for Indian business and American venture capital and high-technology firms.

Successful and highly lucrative technologies such as cloud computing were developed by startups who often served as flexible technology incubators by larger more established companies.  These firms depended on networks of business accelerators and venture capital firms to support their technological development and business growth.  As we have witnessed in Silicon Valley, those initial investments of a few hundred thousand dollars often have come to be worth hundreds of millions and translated into high-paying jobs for college educated professionals.

Historically it has been difficult for Indian startups to get their ideas funded domestically, and even far more difficult to bootstrap companies through family and friends.  Capital flows from both financial and strategic American investors could well fill the void and be the impetus to encourage startups in India.  To be successful, this requires greater recognition by public policy makers of the mutual benefits of increasing trade and cross-border investment.  The Tata Group alone has over $3 billion in FDI in the United States and employs more than 19,000 workers in this country. That is as much a face of India’s IT services industry as BPO centers in Bangalore.

If the point was unclear, I’m sure someone is developing an app for this.

US Repeating Brezezinski-Casey Mistake

When Zbigniew Brezezinski and William Casey implemented a policy of training, funding and equipping Wahabi extremists in order to do battle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the international security consequences of that decision were glossed over. Even a cursory reading of the printed material used by the Wahabi cadres were ought to have shown the disconnect between their world-view and that of modern civilization. The literature teemed with references to historical events such as the crusades, and in particular, the re-occupation of Spain by the Christians. Any reference to Jews and Christians was – to put it in a highly diluted form – uncomplimentary. Given the huge staffs that both had at their elbow, Brezezinski and Casey ought to have figured out that the next target of the Wahabi fanatics, once the USSR was sent packing from Afghanistan, would be the western world.

It was not that there were no options to the recruiting of Wahabi jihadists. At that point in time, the Pashtun community in Afghanistan was almost entirely moderate, and nationalists within them would have eagerly accepted a U.S. request to get launched into battle against the colonial forces of Moscow. Instead, the moderate and nationalist Pashtuns were ignored, and help channeled only to the most virulent and extremist of the Pashtun community; elements incompatible with the co-existence of other elements in any society. It speaks for the lack of accountability within the U.S. strategic community that as yet, neither Brezezinski nor Casey have suffered any damage to their reputations as a consequence of their empowering of Wahabi fanatics into becoming the destructive force they now are. Certainly the defeat of the Soviets was a worthwhile objective, but it is assumed by those covering up for Casey and Brezezinski that this could only have been done by the fanatics. The option of using nationalist and moderate Pashtuns was – and has remained – forgotten. The consequence has been the radicalization of the Pashtun community and the empowerment of the Taliban, that “nurturing solution” to Al Qaeda.

Although 9/11 weakened the warm ties between the NATO powers and the countries and entities nurturing Wahabism, the 2003 Iraq war had the unfortunate and unintended consequence of creating an opportunity for the Wahabists to escape from the box into which they had been penned after the WTC and Pentagon attacks. The grounds for this had been prepared earlier, when Vice-President Dick Cheney decided that the U.S. would implement a strategy of outsourcing the war against the Taliban to the Pakistan army, the very force that saw the extremist militia as an auxiliary force. From 2001 permission given to thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to escape from Kunduz, to the funds provided to Taliban elements deliberately identified as “anti-Taliban” by the ISI, to the NATO-assisted removal of Northern Alliance elements from the Afghan government and their replacement with pro-Taliban elements. It is the NATO which has been responsible for the return of the Taliban, and to such an extent that the alliance is now suing for peace with the militia, although aware of the terrible consequences to the Afghan people and to regional security in general of a Taliban takeover.

2011 saw a full-blooded return of the Brezezinski-Casey doctrine of boosting the offensive capabilities of Wahabi extremists. This columnist had warned – at the start of the Libyan intervention – that the so-called “democracy warriors” active against Muammar Gaddafi were largely Wahabi in composition, and cut from the same cloth as the Taliban. That this was so is clear from the literature they have been spewing out for decades, tracts which reek of prejudice against moderates and other faiths, and which faults Gaddafi not for being a dictator, but for allowing women to go about unveiled, and for not implementing a Wahabi version of Sharia Law. To their shame, western media have dropped Libya off the radar after the killing of Gaddafi, thereby allowing the imposition of (a Wahabi version of) Sharia Law in much of Libya, as well as the killings and torture of thousands, to go unreported. The forecast that Libya would become another Taliban-led Afghanistan, a safe haven for extremists, has come true.

Now in Syria, once again NATO is arming and otherwise assisting elements that will turn on the West as soon as they dispose of Bashar Assad. Intervening in the Wahabi battle against the Shia is as future-disastrous for NATO as Ariel Sharon’s 1982 intervention in Lebanon (on the side of the Maronite Christian militias against the Shia) was for Israel.

Civil wars in Arab countries need to take place without external intervention, especially those having a Wahabi-Shia hue. Hopefully, Hillary Clinton will avoid listening to the big donors from the Middle East to her husband’s charities and foundations, and go by common sense. The repeat of the Brezezinski-Casey strategy of arming Wahabi extremists in first Libya and now Syria is a geopolitical error of the first magnitude.