Modi Comes Out of Silent Mode?

by Atul Cowshish

Modi at his first town hall meeting in New Delhi on Aug 6, 2016

Modi at his first town hall meeting in New Delhi on Aug 6, 2016

At his first US ‘town hall’ type address on July 6, Narendra Modi was at his theatrical best. Using his trademark 1940-50 era filmy style of delivering dialogues in in stentorian voice with much flailing of hands he told a selected audience at a stadium in Delhi how ‘angry’ he gets when he finds ‘anti-social elements’ going wild in the name of ‘cow protection’.

The prime minister has used ‘Maun’ (silence) as his main weapon to blunt criticism by the Opposition parties. So when he suddenly opened his mouth can it be doubted that there must have been an urgent reason: the fallout of the Dalit anger on the polls in his home state, Gujarat, as well the crucial state of UP and also Punjab. The Dalits have vented their ire at him and his party since the suicide of a Dalit research scholar in Hyderabad a year ago and the more recent spate of flogging in Gujarat and physical assaults in many other states which include Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, all ruled by the BJP.

The BJP has ensured that beef becomes a strong emotive issue in the country. It has also become a sort of Hindu versus Muslim issue. For Modi and his party to ask the Opposition parties not to ‘politicise’ the activities of the so-called cow protectors is disingenuous when this issue has virtually replaced the ‘Ram Mandir’ issue as the primary call of the Hindutva forces.

It appeared like a dialogue straight from an Indian movie when Modi thundered, ‘Shoot me if you want, but not Dalits.’ This was an emotional cry aimed at the Dalits whose votes he would need in the coming state assembly polls. Note that his emotional outreach was not directed at the Muslims who remain more estranged from the BJP than ever before. Is his love for the people of the country discriminatory? Does he sincerely believe in ‘sab ka vikas’ (development of all communities)?

And what is his prescription to end the chain of violence against Dalits by the ‘anti-social elements’? The state governments should prepare a ‘dossier’ of such persons to keep an eye on the activities of what he night call ‘bad cow protectors’. Remember he clarified in that very ‘town hall’ peroration that not every ‘Gau Rakshak’ (cow protector) was bad.

It may not be done very professionally and may be done on a small scale but the police in the states do keep a ‘dossier’ on criminals. That does not help much in bringing down the crime rate drastically. It is generally believed that criminals of various hues are deterred by the provision of strict punishment in the law. Modi did not seek or speak of any punishment for the ‘anti-social’ elements—a mere ‘handful’ in his words. He has already implied that the ‘good’ cow protectors need not fear the law.

Modi does not willing to see that beef and the cow protection issue is being used to polarise the country on the basis of religion. The spurt in vigilantism in the country has seen people being beaten, threatened and killed on mere suspicion that they had stored or consumed beef. A large number of BJP stalwarts, not to speak of leaders from the rest of the ‘Sangh Parivar’ jump to defend people accused of perpetrating violence on the basis of rumours. In India your dietary preference can lead to some very serious consequences. This is not what you expect to see in a country that aspires to be counted among the top in the world.

Modi has woken up to the fact that he and his party will suffer immensely because the so-called ‘ Gau Rakshaks’ (cow protectors) are terrorising the Dalits, the Muslims and just about anyone who is engaged in the business of animal slaughter, skinning dead animals or even the trade of import or export of meat. The fact is that all ‘Gau Rakshaks’ (good or bad) have close links with the Sangh Parivar to which Modi also belongs and have received encouragement from Modispeak, especially during and before the 2014 Lok Sabha poll.

After his ‘shoot me first’ speech, reactions from some of the Gau Rakshaks indicate that the violence in the name of cow protection is not going to end. The VHP is reported to have warned Modi that he will have to ‘pay’ for his remarks. One of the prominent Gau Rakshaks in UP said that he will organise a ‘Yagna’ (special prayer) in Meerut so that Modi’s regains his senses.

A recurring theme in most speeches by Modi during the Lok Sabha poll campaign was cow protection, criticising the then Congress-led government of ushering in a ‘pink revolution’ which was about cow slaughter. In fact, Modi continued with the cow theme even after becoming the prime minister in May 2014. During the Bihar assembly poll campaign in 2015, posters had appeared urging voters to save cow slaughter by voting BJP.

Cow slaughter issue was used to divide the people on religious lines and it continues to be so despite Modi’s flare-up at the town hall meeting. After Modi assumed power cow vigilantism in the country has taken a big leap, aided undoubtedly by the BJP-ruled states to introduce stringent rules in the name of protecting the cow. Among the first major policy decision taken by the chief minister of Haryana, a Modi protégé, was to legislate on cow protection and renaming Gurgaon. As for the miseries of the people brought by the monsoon he has done nothing beyond blaming the previous regime.

Modi has alluded to the fact that chewing plastic (bags) takes a heavy toll of the cows in the country. This ‘discovery’ by him has come late because never before had he talked about this hazard. If he is serious, he should bring in a law to totally ban the use of plastic bags in the country. That will be in line what the Supreme Court has suggested.

 

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Prachanda back at the Nepali wheel

By Rattan Saldi

Prachanda

Prachanda

On 04 August, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, began his second innings as Nepal’s Prime Minister, and he has just about nine months to sort out knotty problems K.P. Sharma Oli government of CPN (UML) – led coalition has left behind.  The biggest plus for him is the support of the Nepali Congress, which has joined hands with him to end the Oli rule which had pushed the country into a crisis mode by its refusal to come to grips with the Madeshi cause in the time tested Nepali spirit of accommodating conflicting views and interests.

Prachanda’s turf space is limited though. His party, is a junior partner in the new coalition. The Maoists have 87 lawmakers as against 207 by Nepali Congress (NC).  Under the 7-point deal between the Maoists (CPN-Maoist Centre and NC, Prachanda has to pass on the baton to the NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba for the second nine-months of the new government’s term. Fresh ballot is due next year, and a new government is to be installed by Jan 21, 2018

Prachanda’s immediate task is to pave the way for full implementation of the peace process. He also will have to work overtime to remove irritants that are holding up the new Constitution promulgated last September.  Moreover, people recovering from the trauma of last year’s devastating earthquake are crying for attention. So is the economy, which has become a victim of Oli-Madeshi standoff.

Will he deliver on these pledges and on the promise to hold the ballot for local bodies by March/April 2017 to usher in grassroots democracy in the Himalayan Nation, which said good-bye to the 237- year- old monarchy eight years ago?

Crystal gazing is a hazardous game but Prachanda appears to be pressing all the right buttons at least as of now whether it is foreign relations, where he and his ally NC are set to remove the pronounced tilt, the Oli government had perfected, or whether it is home front, where he is using his old channels with Madeshis to bring them back to his side.

Prachanda’s first stint as PM lasted less than a year from August 2008 to May 2009. His spat with the then Army Chief General Rookamangud Katawal over induction of  his erstwhile Peoples’ Liberation Army cadres (armed Maoist rebels) into the Army is a part of Nepali folklore. So is the fact that he had to go after the then President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav reinstated Katawal rejecting his orders sacking the army chief.

There is no gain saying the fact the Maoist supremo has come a long way since 2008 when he had led the one-time rebels into the democratic mainstream.  He has earned sobriquets like unpredictable, roll back expert and maverick. Yet, he has shown remarkable dexterity in manoeuvring through political minefields.  This is clear by the way he has stitched the new ruling coalition. Also his readiness to do business with India.

During his a little over nine months in office as Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli faltered on more than one count. He neither listened to his allies in the ruling coalition nor his own CPN –UML seniors on dealing with Madeshi agitation that saw more than fifty deaths and crippled the supply chain for about five months. He also overruled the suggestion by his main prop -Maoist Centre- to form a consensus government as no single party was in a position to amend the Constitution and fulfill the primary Madeshi demand – redrawing boundaries of federal provinces.

K P Sharma Oli

K P Sharma Oli

In a short-sighted move, Oli whipped up anti-India sentiment. He held New Delhi responsible for the Madeshi blockade of the border with India. Significantly, he himself made no serious effort to resolve the crisis; instead tried to crush the movement with iron hand. In fact, he had allowed the crisis to linger on hoping that it would steam off on its own.

Speaking at a Conference on National Security (Kathmandu) Oli openly accused India of interfering. The process of government change was “not an automatic process but conducted by remote control”, he remarked and went on to add that “India’s role was primarily behind it.”  He blatantly tried to raise nationalistic decibel by accusing India of involvement in the Madeshi blockade that had led to shortages and sufferings.

While on a visit to Beijing in March last, Oli signed his much publicized Transit Treaty with China and an agreement to use its ports for Nepal’s trade with third countries. During the border blockade with India, he even imported a small quantity of Chinese petroleum products.

It was a symbolic import, nothing more, nothing less. Because of the distance and mountainous topography such a venture is neither feasible nor economically viable; it nevertheless offered Oli a blunt weapon to make a point vis-à-vis India and the Madeshis.  Needless to say, relations between India and Nepal dived to the lowest ebb.

Nepal’s trade with third countries is through only Kolkata port. Visakhapatnam port also has been opened to Nepalese traders, an agreement for which was signed during Oli’s visit to New Delhi in February last.

As Prime Minister in 2008-09, Prachanda, riding on the wave of a whipped up popular sentiment, was known for his anti-India stance. He stood for scrapping of India- Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship and redrawing of several other accords with India. But he now appears to be more mature, realistic and pragmatic in his approach towards neighbours and in dealing with peoples’ issues. He has promised to pursue a ‘balanced’ foreign policy.

The real test to the Maoist supremo would be amending the Constitution to accommodate Madeshi demand for redrawing the boundaries of seven provinces where they have a significant presence and interest besides giving them proportionate representation based on population in government. A Constitutional amendment would require two-third majority in Parliament. It will remain a mirage unless former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) come on board.

Nepali Congress chief Deuba

Nepali Congress chief Deuba

Maoists and the Nepali Congress signed with the United Democratic Madeshi Front, UDMF, and the Federal Democratic Alliance, FDA a three-point pact minutes before they voted for Dahal in Parliament. It envisages firming up the statute amendment proposal on the basis of political consensus to address Madeshi demands. A  Commission headed by a retired judge of Supreme Court to probe incidents of violence during the Madeshi agitation, martyr status to those killed, medical assistance to the injured, and financial assistance to the families who had lost their earning are the other components of the pact.

Prime Minister Dahal has held one round of talks with UDMF and FDA leaders and announced rupees one lakh compensation to the families of those killed during the Madeshi agitation. He has invited both parties to join his coalition government but the Madeshi leaders appear still undecided though.

The key to stability and peace in Nepal lies in deft handling of the Madeshi agitation; for this flexibility and not rigid postures would be needed. The path is slippery but not unfathomable given the changed political climate in the Himalayan nation, going by what Prachanda had told KP Sharma Oli before withdrawing support to the CPN-UML led government on 13 July 2016.

“Our party (CPN-Maoist Centre) sees the need for national consensus to implement the new statute, complete the remaining tasks of peace process along with the transitional justice, resolve the issues raised by Madhesis, Janjaatis and Tharus, and provide relief to the people and carry out reconstruction of the country in the wake of the last year’s devastating earthquake,” Prachanda told Oli in his letter announcing that he was pulling out.  He also vowed to expedite infrastructure development across the country and reconstruction in the earthquake hit region.

From what is seen and heard in Kathmandu, Prime Minister Dahal has got down to his work without much ado.

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Oli Goes, Triggers New Polarization

Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli,

Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli,

 

 

By Rattan Saldi

The Himalayan nation, Nepal has once again plunged into a political turmoil which culminated into the resignation of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli on Sunday the 24th July 2016. He dramatically announced his decision to quit on the floor of Parliament at the end of his reply to the three -day debate on the No Confidence Motion moved by his ally turned bitter critic Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, the Maoist supremo.

After lashing out at Prachanda, and playing the nationalist card, Oli told the law makers that he had already submitted his resignation to President Vidya Devi Bhandari. Well, he had categorically been ruling out his resignation all along. Perhaps he feared that the numbers were not with him and he was sure to be voted out in the house with effective strength of 596 members.

President Bhandari has rolled out the process to elect new Head of Government in accordance with Article 298 of Nepal Constitution. On July 25, she gave one week to the major parties to strive to pick up a consensus candidate. Parliament is scheduled to meet on August 1 to elect the new PM, if no consensus emerges. As things stand now, Maoist Centre Chairman Prachanda is the front runner for the job with the support of opposition Nepali Congress (NC).

The events leading to Oli’s resignation  prove the adage that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. Though they are ideologically miles apart, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre (formerly Unified Communist Party of Nepal -Maoist) joined hands to topple the government led by a Communist. As many as 13 other fringe parties and groups supported their plan. They include Oli’s known allies- Madeshi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) and the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP).

The new alliance in the making appears firm on fully implementing the unfinished task of the peace process and resolving the Madeshi crisis. These are the twin issues that have been deviling the political scene and have contributed to instability in the Himalayan nation for months.

The very first point in the 7-Point deal that the NC and Maoists had reportedly reached says the new conglomeration has resolved to amend the Constitution to address issues raised by Madesh based movement and other movements in a way acceptable to all.

Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli did not favour amending the Constitution to make federalism acceptable to agitating Madeshis, Tharus, Janjaties, minorities and other marginalized sections, who constitute nearly half the country’s population. He was adamant in his stand. Even when a section of his own party took him to task, he did not budge. He did not make any serious effort to buy peace with the Madeshis.

While abdicating power, Oli claimed that his government promoted relations with India and China but his tilt towards Beijing is pronounced. His nine and a half month rule was marked by an agreement with China for trading goods with third countries through Chinese ports. He went ahead with the deal despite the awareness that such trading would neither be feasible nor economically competitive.

Oli claimed that he had tried to break dependence on a single country, India with which Nepal shares more than 1600 km long border in its Terai region. The reference is to the import of a small consignment of petroleum products from China. Symbolism, not commercial viability marked the import. He also claimed that his rein had begun the process of turning land locked the nation from to a land linked nation but side stepped the reality check that it could be achieved only at a huge cost which a least developed country like Nepal could hardly afford.

Be as that may, the fact of the matter is that an onerous task awaits the incoming government. Top of the agenda is of course, implementation of the Constitution, A helping hand to the people affected by earthquake last year, solution to the Madeshi imbroglio, and elections to local bodies and provincial legislatures also figure high on the ‘to do’ list, which is Oli legacy, though not necessarily in that order.

The term of present Parliament ends in January 2018. That means, the new government will have to put its act together quickly.

And deliver on its promises. In 18 months flat!

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Nepal PM In Search Of Survival Mantra

Nepal Parliament

Nepal Parliament

By R C Saldi

Kathmandu/New Delhi, 22 July: The No Confidence Motion against Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli registered on July 13 was to come up in Parliament for debate and voting on the 21st -the day when the mandatory weeks’ notice period was completed. But the debate was deferred as the House could not achieve a consensus on whether to take up first the budget or the no confidence.

Prime Minister’s alliance partner, Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist Centre is spearheading the no trust challenge.

During the past one week unprecedented political game plans were at work with one side putting pressure on the Prime Minister to resign and the other trying to create fissures among the parties who had tabled the no confidence motion to woo their member to save the government from imminent fall.

More than 280 members belonging to the main opposition, Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre and the United Democratic Madeshi Front had signed the no confidence motion. Another 60 members also supported the Motion. The government needs 298 votes to survive in the House with effective strength of 595 members.

Normally, a no confidence motion against any incumbent government takes precedence over all other business before the House but surprisingly the ruling alliance insisted upon the House first approving the three bills relating to Budget. A meeting with all major stake holders by the Speaker before the House met on 21st could not break the ice and the House was adjourned first for three hours and finally for the day.

The Speaker Onsari Gharti informed President Vidya Devi Bhandari of the developments. Her office said: “if there is no consensus, no confidence motion will be priority of the House.”

But in such an event, the government side had already announced that it would block the proceedings of the House.

What a paradox? The ruling parties would hold the House hostage, if they go by their stated plans.

Prime Minister K.P.Sharma Oli has blamed India for his troubles, alleging that New Delhi was trying to topple his regime.

One of his deputies, and a senior leader of his party, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), Bhim Rawal also has held India responsible for the political turmoil. India has categorically rejected these claims and said what is happening in Nepal today is its internal matter.

It is not for the first time that New Delhi has sought to been made a scapegoat for internal strife and lust for power in the Himalayan nation. Earlier in last May also when Oli faced a similar situation, the southern neighbor was blamed for the happenings.

What prompted the Central Committee of the CPN Maoist Centre and its chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ‘Prachanda’ to withdraw support to the Oli government just a month after staging a volte-face on a similar motion? At least in May there was this fig leaf of support from Nepali Congress to the formation of Prachanda-led alternative government?

It is widely known in political circles that Prachanda saved the Oli government in May following outside interference. The reference was not to India. It was to China, Nepal’s northern neighbor, which is keen on stability of the Oli government.

This time too, a Chinese delegation is in Kathmandu to garner support in favour of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli. Direct feelers were sent to Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel who is known to wield considerable influence and following in the party, apparently to create division in NC ranks. But the game failed.

Poudel has however offered a face saver to Oli. He said the Opposition will withdraw the no confidence motion if the Prime Minister quits on his own. His four point package was — Opposition withdraws the no trust notice, PM resigns Sharma Oli, sort out constitutional complexities for the election of [new] prime minister, and all parties working in tandem for the implementation of the constitution.

The ruling CPN-UML leader Subas Nembang welcome the offer as positive but a meeting of Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre) and Madhes based parties held on Friday, July 22, has shot it down. No question of going back on no trust vote, they said plunging the ruling camp into a fresh round of hectic parleys.

Both the ruling side and the Opposition have consulted constitutional experts for their next move but as things stand the no confidence motion is likely to be debated and voted in Parliament in a day or two which could pave the way for the installation of a new government.

If no consensus is reached on the agenda of the proceedings in Parliament, the Speaker is likely to take up the no confidence motion for debate on precedence as already announced by her. But if the proceedings are blocked by the ruling alliance, the Speaker Onsari Gharti might have to take some hard decisions.

In that case the crisis within the CPN (UML) is likely to aggravate, and the Prime Minister Oli, who is already facing flak for his style of functioning and his handling of the Madhesi agitation, will find his position weakening further. (Syndicate Features)

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Does BJP Want Minority and Dalit Votes?

Modi, Mayawati

Modi, Mayawati

by Atul Cowshish
The Bharatiya Janata Party always seemed to believe that it did not require the Muslim minority vote and it did not have to bank on Dalit support because its solid Hindu vote bank was sufficient to keep it in power. But now burning with a desire to be the sole ruler in a ‘Congress-free’ India, the BJP is trying to reach out to the Dalits and is making efforts albeit token to woo the Muslims. The latest exercise in that direction came in the cabinet reshuffle when of the 19 new members inducted five were drawn from the Dalit community and a prominent Muslim face given to changing allegiance. It is still not clear that these steps will help the BJP realise its dream of becoming the dominant pan-India party—a party that represents all segments of the society.

The strides made by the BJP to create a new constituency of Dalit voters appear to be crumbling while the Muslims cannot warm up to a party whose leaders—ministers included–speak ill of them so openly. After facing a storm over the death of a Dalit student in Hyderabad for a year, the BJP efforts to woo the Dalits appear to be failing. The blame must go to the top leadership of the party, which in effect means the Narendraa Modi-Amit Shah duo.

This duo  talks of attracting the Dalits and Muslims towards the party fold but acts as deaf-mute when various party functionaries, including some senior leaders, indulge in or encourage violence against Dalits and Muslims under one pretext or the other. None of the BJP functionaries who used foul language against Dalits and Muslims had to pay for their indiscretions or egregious acts. Suddenly there was an exception.

The vice president of BJP in UP, Dayashankar Singh, was summarily thrown out within hours of making a hideous remark against the BSP supremo, Mayawati. That was a rare occasion when the BJP leadership took prompt action against a senior leader of its party for making abusive, vulgar and totally unacceptable remarks. Such action was not in evidence earlier. And it doesn’t seem to have set a precedent.

That is why it can be seen as a case of too little too late. Whatever happens to Dayashankar Singh is not going to alter the image of the BJP in the minds of ordinary Dalits. Mayawati may have spoken boastfully and with no moderation but she is not totally wide of the mark when she says that her followers see her as a ‘goddess’. Her followers might have tried to outdo Dayashankar Singh in using foul language against his family and be criticized for it but it does not alter the picture for the BJP. If anything, it angers the upper caste Thakurs who find the BJP unable to defend their ‘honour’.

Many who have worked with Mayawati have deserted her, accusing her of greed for wealth and ‘selling’ party nomination at the time of the polls. The point is that till the Modi wave of 2014 swept everything off, Mayawati’s following did not shrink by any significant margin despite widespread allegations about her fondness for wealth, including diamonds, jewellery and monuments for self. The BJP has failed to make a dent in Mayawati’s following, if the Dalit response to the insult on her heaped by Dayashankar Singh is anything to go by.

In the last one year, the BJP has shown excessive zest for carrying out various aspects of its Hindutva agenda some of which have resulted in violence against the Dalits and Muslims. The ‘development plank’ of the BJP and its slogan of ‘sabka vikas’ (inclusive growth) appear to be one of the many ‘Jumlas’ it uses to entice voters. One of the movements that the BJP has pursued with vigour is about cow protection. Under its cover, Muslims have been targeted for alleged slaughtering the cow. It is now clear that it also targets the Dalits.

The Dalits in Gujarat are up in arms against the BJP after the cow vigilantes, part of the Hindutva brigade, beat up mercilessly some Dalits for skinning dead cows. The Dalits were not doing anything criminal but the Hindutva elements will not accept that. The cow vigilantes appear to enjoy state protection, if the victims are to be believed.

A video showing a so-called cow protection group mercilessly beating four Dalits for four hours went viral on the social media. The police did not help the victims, prompting questions about the role of the Gujarat police which had been accused of partisanship during the 2002 riots in which 2000 Muslims were killed.

In Maharashtra, the Dalits are on the boil, following demolition of the Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai. Media reports said that the old building is to be replaced by a 17-storey high rise to be constructed by a realtor close to the ruling party in Maharashtra. It is strange that the chief minister of the state, who reportedly performed the ‘Bhoomi puja’, did not think that pulling down a building commemorating Ambedkar would be politically unwise.

Vigilante groups are active in many parts of Maharashtra—and many other parts of India where their targets are either Muslims or Dalits, or both. These days it is common to hear that cattle traders are being treated as ‘soft targets’ by the Hindutva vigilante groups with the police looking the other way. The BJP has shown no interest in disciplining these groups.

It would appear that these days anyone espousing the cause supported by the BJP can raise a vigilant group and go on a rampage without any fear of the law. This is, at least, the public perception. The BJP has been desperate to own Dalit and other icons from other parties and dramatises its new-found love for Ambedkar but all that will not be sufficient to make the BJP look like a party of ALL Indians.

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Oli in Minority, Kathmandu needs to revisit its polity

Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, Nepal PM  since Oct 12, 20155

Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, Nepal PM
since Oct 12, 20155

By Malladi Rama Rao

New Delhi, 21 July : This must be the nth time that the Maoists have withdrawn support from the K.P. Oli government (or for that matter any government in Nepal).   Refusing to recognise the dynamics of power sharing, the outgoing Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has accused India of creating instability in Nepal! “Blame it all on India” – has become the hallmark of Nepali polity for quite some time.

What drove the Maoists to reduce the coalition government to a minority? Well, essentially, Prachanda was peeved that Oli had not implemented the nine-point agreement signed between the CPN-UML and the Maoists in May 2016. And also the gentlemen’s agreement for the change of guard.

That aside, the allegation in a section of the Nepali media that the Indian Ambassador, Ranjit Rae, “threw a feast” after the Maoists bowed out added grist to the mills in Kathmandu. This is not for the first time that the Nepali media has allowed its speculation to run wild unmindful of the damage to India-Nepal bilateral relations. One such media speculation some months ago said the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was not too pleased with the Ambassador while another went to the extent of saying Kathmandu would be declaring the envoy persona non grata. One often forgets that it is easy to reinforce stereotypes that already exist in society about India’s efforts to micro-manage political affairs in Nepal.

And thereby hangs a tale. Nepal has seen a series of coalitions wherein one party has the power to pressurize the other and this lends itself to instability. There have been 26 governments in as many years and this is not a sign of stability by any count. As recently as May this year, the Maoists withdrew support from the Oli government, only to restore support within 24 hours. Such a volte face was only possible because outside pressure was brought to bear on Prachanda to keep stability as the main plank.

As of now, Oli has responded to the Prachanda pull out by saying that he will ‘think about it’. Under the Nepali constitution, Oli has two options. Either he resigns or faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.

The real issue is not Oli- Prachanda equation. It is much deeper; it relates to stability of governance in Nepal.

PM Oli may or may not survive, the NC with its numbers may get to back a Maoist government and so on; the possibilities are endless. The real question is who benefits from all this jockeying?

That said one must question the motives of the Chinese in constantly backing the Maoists in whatever they do. China has consistently stated that it wants a stable government in Nepal.

Recent days have seen hectic discussions between the government and a visiting Chinese delegation said to be resident at the Yak and Yeti hotel in Kathmandu. The Chinese have expressed the hope that the PM Oli-led government will continue till the visit of the ‘high level’ dignitary to Nepal in October. Pertinently, Prime Minister Oli had requested Chinese President to visit Nepal ‘within this year’ during his Beijing sojourn in March and this was reflected in the Joint Statement then issued.

The Chinese have played a peculiar game with India in May when they got Kathmandu to claim that Nepal was the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It was a clear mischief on the eve of Kathmandu hosting the International Buddhist Conference. The obvious aim was to ensure that India, the land of the birth of Buddhism did not steal the limelight at the meet. That India did not attend the conference is not germane to the story though.

The harsh reality is that China still has a hand on the till as far as Prachanda is concerned. He is a regular visitor to Beijing. At China’s behest Prachanda had proposed the idea of Nepal becoming a bridge between India and China. The Chinese have also penetrated the Kathmandu security establishment like never before and therefore are not too worried about which government is in power.

The Oli government may be well placed to receive President Xi Jinping or Premier Le Keqiang in Kathmandu; that is if K.P. Oli survives the no-confidence motion against him. This process is expected to take a couple of weeks. Therefore, in the interim, it is best for India to bide its time as far as Kathmandu is concerned.

-( This commentary first appeared  in Asian Tribune, an online publication)

 

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How a Brexit Would Undermine Europe’s Balance of Power

By Adriano Bosoni
Britain’s approaching referendum has led to rampant speculation about the economic and financial consequences of a vote to leave the European Union. And indeed, in the wake of a Brexit, uncertainty — the archenemy of economic growth and financial stability — would abound. But if Britain withdraws from the Continental bloc, its primary effect would be geopolitical, shaking the balance of power in Europe to its very foundation and forcing the bloc to rethink its role in the world.

The Franco-German alliance is the cornerstone on which European power dynamics rest. Conflict between the two drove three Continental wars between 1870 and 1945; its resolution facilitated peace after World War II, planting the seeds of eventual integration through the European Union. But France and Germany are not the only countries shaping Europe’s course. A third actor plays the role of power broker between the two, stabilizing their relationship and, by extension, the Continent: the United Kingdom.

When France and West Germany founded the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Union’s predecessor, in the 1950s, they had two goals. The first was to create a political and economic structure that would bind the two states together, reducing the chances of another war breaking out in Europe. The second was to facilitate trade and investment to rejuvenate Europe’s war-weary economies. Both were pleased with the solution they found: France felt it had neutralized its eastern neighbor while maintaining control of Continental politics, and Germany had successfully reconciled with the West.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European project was somewhat ambiguous. As an island nation, Britain historically had been shielded from events unfolding on the mainland. If the United Kingdom intervened in Continental affairs, it was usually to ensure that power remained balanced and yet dispersed enough to keep Britain safe. When the EEC was born, London initially reacted with skepticism, wary of any project that would transfer more sovereignty from the British Parliament to unelected technocrats in Brussels. France, moreover, was eager to keep Britain out of the bloc; it was concerned about granting EEC membership to a country Charles de Gaulle described as “an American Trojan Horse in Europe.” De Gaulle was also reluctant to include the only country in Western Europe capable of competing with France for leadership of the bloc. It came as no surprise when, in the 1960s, France vetoed Britain’s membership twice.

But in the early 1970s, things changed. De Gaulle was no longer France’s president, and both Paris and Berlin were quickly realizing the geopolitical importance of expanding the EEC’s membership. Across the English Channel, London had lost its empire and was in the midst of reassessing its international priorities and trade relationships. Though it saw EEC membership as an opportunity to influence the process of Continental integration, Britain’s interest in accessing the common market far outweighed its aspirations of building a federal Europe. Unlike France and Germany, Britain had little enthusiasm for transforming the Continent into a United States of Europe.

These motives formed the basis of Britain’s modern relationship with Europe, which was largely established during the administration of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Under the Tory leader, Britain simultaneously pushed to lower its contribution to the EEC budget and eliminate trade barriers inside the bloc. In Thatcher’s now-famous Bruges Speech, she dismissed the notion of a federal Europe, instead describing the Continental organization as an agreement among sovereign states to establish free trade. A few years later her successor, John Major, negotiated Britain’s opt-out from the eurozone.

Thatcher also advocated enlarging the EEC to the east, a strategy Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair continued in the early 2000s. Bringing the former communist states under the Continental umbrella not only sped up their transition to market economies but also created new demand for British exports. As an added perk for London, the bloc’s expansion into a larger and more loosely connected entity helped to dilute France and Germany’s hold over Europe.

But Britain’s approach has produced only mixed results. Few new EU members have joined the eurozone, showing the limits of the federal union, and many share Thatcher’s view of the bloc as a pact among sovereign states. At the same time, the admission of countries such as Poland and Romania has led to a significant increase in immigration to the United Kingdom, a development that Brexit supporters consider a primary reason for leaving the bloc.

Upsetting the Balance of Power
If Britain quits the European Union, though, it risks disrupting the base of power the bloc has come to rest on. Germany relies on Britain’s backing when it comes to promoting free trade in the face of France’s protectionist tendencies. France sees Britain as not only a key defense partner but also a potential counterweight to German influence. Removing Britain from the equation would shatter this tenuous arrangement at a particularly dangerous time for the deeply fragmented Europe, when neither Germany nor France is satisfied with the status quo.

Should the “leave” camp win the British referendum, tension would rise between the Continent’s north and south. Countries in Southern Europe want to turn the European Union into a transfer union that redistributes wealth from the relatively rich north to the less developed south and shares risk equally among members. Northern Europe, by comparison, is eager to protect its affluence and would agree to share risk only if the bloc assumed greater control over the south’s ability to borrow and spend. The regions also disagree on how the European Union should use its funds. Southern Europe advocates generous subsidies for agriculture and development, a view most Eastern European states share, but Northern Europe would prefer to freeze or even reduce the bloc’s budget.

As a net contributor to the European Union’s budget, Britain has been particularly vocal on these issues. According to VoteWatch Europe, the country was on the losing side of votes related to EU spending more often than any other member between 2009 and 2015. Generally speaking, Northern European states such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark tend to vote alongside Britain. Germany also usually sees see eye to eye with Britain on certain topics, such as Europe’s common market, though the two tend to disagree on issues like the environment. But regardless of other members’ stances, Britain has proved more willing than any of its peers to openly voice opposition to EU decisions. Without it, the European Union would be short a liberalizing and market-friendly member, and the bloc’s political balance would shift in the favor of protectionist countries in Southern Europe such as France, Italy and Spain.

As fears of a takeover by this Mediterranean group grow among Northern European governments, they would probably become more resistant to the process of Continental integration. After all, the European Union is already deeply divided over related issues such as the eurozone and Schengen Agreement, which have little to do with Britain since it is not a member of either. The looming referendum has only revealed more points of contention within the bloc that would be aggravated by a Brexit. The Dutch government, for example, recently argued for limiting membership in the Schengen zone to a handful of countries in Northern Europe, while the right-wing Alternative for Germany party proposed the creation of a “northern eurozone.”

The north-south divide would not be the only gulf to widen on the Continent, either. Should Britain leave, the European Union would split between east and west, too. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe see Britain as the defender of non-eurozone members’ interests, and many share London’s views on the sovereignty of member states. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, for instance, are generally supportive of the European Union but suspicious of Brussels’ attempts to interfere with their domestic affairs. In particular, these countries have sympathized with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to give national parliaments more power to block EU legislation. Poland and the Baltic states also see Britain as a critical partner on the issue of Russia, since London has fought for a tough European stance against Moscow in response to its annexation of Crimea. In the event that Britain leaves the Continental bloc, its Central and Eastern European allies may eventually become more isolated from Brussels.

Weakening Europe’s Influence Abroad
The loss of one of the few EU members that is able to operate on a global scale would undermine the bloc’s external strength as well. Only France can match the international presence Britain has, thanks to London’s vast political and economic connections and its considerable military prowess. Though a Brexit would not keep Britain from cooperating with Europe completely, given its continued NATO membership and shared security interests with France and Germany, its collaboration with the Continent would be limited. As a result, Europe’s ability to cope with challenges abroad — whether the migrant crisis, international terrorism or a more assertive Russia — would diminish.

Germany’s and France’s recent calls for the European Union to deepen its military and security cooperation seem to suggest the two are concerned about this very outcome. Berlin has steadfastly avoided taking on the more active role in world affairs that a Brexit would require. Since the start of the European financial crisis, Germany has reluctantly shouldered the burden of leading the bloc’s political and economic policymaking, but assuming a prominent military role is another matter. France, for one, would accept it only within the framework of an EU-wide military union, something that would be difficult to achieve amid the atmosphere of isolationism that has settled over the Continent. The political calculations of French and German leaders preparing for general elections in 2017 would make such cooperation even harder to come by.

No matter what British voters choose, the damage to Europe has already been done. If Britain leaves the European Union, it would throw the Continent into yet another political and economic crisis, giving Euroskeptic forces greater ammunition against the bloc and voters fewer reasons to defend it. But if Britain keeps its membership, it would have proved to other European governments that it is possible to demand concessions from Brussels while winning support at home. And so, regardless of what happens June 23, Britain has set a precedent that Brussels cannot stop other EU members from following.

<a href=”https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/how-brexit-would-undermine-europes-balance-power”>How a Brexit Would Undermine Europe’s Balance of Power</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.

 

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REXIT in Sycophancy Raj

By Atul Cowshish

It came as no surprise when the governor of Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, announced that he will be quitting his post on September 4 when he completes his three-year term, ending the speculation over a second term for him which would have been the usual norm. Rajan’s decision, dubbed Rexit, has followed a systematic campaign against him launched by the BJP member of the Rajys Sabha Subramanian Swamy with clear blessings of the Modi government.

Most analysts have no doubt that the government did not want Rajan as the head of the central bank because he was not willing to be a yes man. Rajan’s impeding exit, rather the circumstances under which he is going, has not gone down well in many political and financial circles. It has invited negative publicity for the government at a time when it is in the midst of celebrating its two years in office with a publicity blitz worth crores of rupees.  

The finance minister rushed with the announcement moments after Rajan said he would not seek another term that the government has already prepared a list from which to pick up Rajan’s successor. Unable to hide his glee, Swamy the maverick BJP leader said he has a hit list of 27 senior bureaucrats whom he suspects of being loyal to his bête noire, Sonia Gandhi. There is going to be a long exit list in the government of India. Swamy has not disclosed the names on his hit list. It will be interesting to discover the names of those who take over from the booted out bureaucrats and how well they meet Swamy’s criterion for their jobs.

With the powerful Sangh Parivar behind him, Swamy will surely have his way and thus prove that this is a government which believes in sycophancy and has an innate dislike for anyone who disagrees. Sycophancy in politics, of course, has been a long tradition in India, finely defined during the rule of late Indira Gandhi. Among the innumerable promises made by Modi during the Lok Sabha poll was wiping the Indian political system clean of sycophancy or the more familiar and more odious word ‘Chamchagiri’.   

Far from ending it, the Modi government within a matter of two years has taken it to new heights by making it a compulsory survival tool. Self-proclaimed ‘chamchas’ after ‘chamchas’ are being appointed at the top of institutions and removing the ‘unwanted’ or ‘undesirable’ elements as part of an unprecedented political and cultural purge. It has apparently become a badge of honour to be known as a ‘chamcha’ of the regime. Anyone who does not subscribe to the beliefs propagated by the Sangh Parivar automatically become unfit to hold any senior position in the government or institutions controlled by it.

It is an interesting coincidence that while Rajan was announcing his decision to return to the academia in the US, it became known that former cricketer and BJP member, Chetan Chauhan, was to head the National Institute of Fashion Technology. In an interview with the Indian Express, Chauhan defended his appointment with some observations that suggest that he qualified for the post only by virtue of his political affiliation.

He began by acknowledging his gratitude to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the BJP president, Amit Shah. Could there be a clearer way of accepting that his was a purely political appointment unconnected to any merit? Going by his statement, the qualities that landed him the NIFT job include: sportsman of international repute, ‘Quality time (23 years) spent in in BANKING’ and possessing a sense of fashion that requires him to be well dressed without being flamboyant.

None of these qualify him even remotely to the post he has been handed over by the government. The head of NIFT, as mentioned in the books, has to have any of the following qualifications: an eminent academician, scientist, technologist or (fashion) professional.

Many who thought Chauhan was unsuited for the NIFT job made sarcastic comments. It was said that he did know about fashion because he knew all about square leg and fine leg! Anticipating an occasion when the NIFT boss has to express his opinion about the design of a skirt, someone said that he would immediately ask the leg to be padded up.                

Chauhan also made it clear in his talk with the newspaper that he would devote ’20 per cent’ of his time to NIFT. That he thinks will be more than sufficient as the institute has a board of governor for attending to mundane problems of governing. Another 20 per cent will go to his business (a newsprint company) and the bulk of his time (60 per cent) will be spent looking after the Delhi and District Cricket Association where he is a vice president. It is a rather infamous cricketing body battling with allegations of fraud.

Taking into consideration the flak that Chetan Chauhan has received, one can only feel sorry for another Chauhan, Gajendra Singh Chauhan who was given charge of the Film and Television Institute of India. It was followed by a long spell of agitation by students and criticism by many in the film world. Gajendra Chauhan’s selection was criticised because he was never considered an actor of high caliber. But at least the man did have acting credentials, howsoever poor they may have been! Chetan Chauhan has no such pretensions.

The FTII Chauhan had no hesitation in proclaiming his ‘saffron’ leanings and admiration for the prime minister. His praise for Narendra Modi was, however, not as gushing as another man from the tinsel world appointed by the Modi government to a key post. Pahlaj Nihalani heads the Censor Board though he was never part of the league of big producers of films. His biggest ‘merit’ was his unbounded admiration for the prime minister that has prompted him to proclaim with ‘pride’ that he is a ‘Chamcha’ of Narendra Modi. To drive home the point further he added that he could not have been a ‘Chamcha’ of any other prime minister, least of all the ‘Italian’ prime minister. Nihalani is serving his idol well by creating controversies about films that he thinks will harm the interest of the party he admires.

It appears that the largest crop of admirers of the prime minister belongs to Bollywood, ranging from thespians like Anupam Kher to the bit role players. The prime minister must be pleased to find that men and women from the world of glamour are among the front ranks of his ‘Chamchas’. The Indian masses are easily mesmerised by the film stars and Modi will like to put that to good use.

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A Hong Kong Bookseller Confronts Beijing

Screen-Shot-2016-06-16-at-8.20.45-PM-Copy-1Protesters in Hong Kong are once again back on the streets, directing their ire at Beijing. This time, demonstrations were sparked by the detention of bookseller Lam Wing-kee, apprehended by mainland authorities last year in connection with the distribution of subversive literature. On June 18, Lam led a 6 kilometer (4 mile) march from Causeway Bay to the Central Government Liaison Office, drawing a following of 4,000 to 6,000 people.

The numbers are a significant uptick from the tiny June 17 rally in front of the Hong Kong Liaison Office, involving around 100 people. The popularity of the rally could be attributed to Lam’s alleged detention, which confirms for many the suspicion in Hong Kong that Beijing is targeting numerous booksellers for secret rendition — in violation of the One Country, Two Systems setup.

The 61-year-old bookseller was rounded up along with four of his colleagues in late 2015, following allegations levied against Causeway Bay Books, a well-known Hong Kong bookstore. The bookstore business is popular with mainland Chinese customers, providing an outlet for publishing focused on books recounting sordid rumors concerning high-level Chinese politicians. These texts, though often of questionable veracity, are frequently used by mainland political factions to undermine one another; through targeted releases of inconvenient information. This particular bookstore may have gone too far, however. Last year’s crackdown is rumored to have been sparked by Causeway Bay Books’ plan to publish a book on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s alleged extramarital affairs.

Whatever prompted the rendition order for booksellers to be dragged back to the mainland must have struck a nerve. Historically, Beijing has scrupulously avoided such overt violations of Hong Kong’s special status, displaying a conscious preference for returning fugitives home through legal methods. Hong Kong’s political scene reacted accordingly to the renditions, with new nativist parties rising up to openly advocate for Hong Kong’s independence. Some of these groups rejected the peaceful demonstration methods of the 2014 Occupy Central protesters, preferring more direct action instead.

Beijing has, in turn, slowly released the incarcerated booksellers back to Hong Kong, keeping only one in detention: a naturalized Swedish citizen called Gui Minhai. Interestingly, however, before Lam, none of these former prisoners spoke up. Instead, they all consistently maintained what appears to be a scripted line — that their trips to the mainland were made to voluntarily assist in investigations. Each had pleaded for Hong Kong authorities not to investigate. And Gui, being a Swedish citizen, asked the same of Sweden.

And there was Lam Wing-kee. Returned to Hong Kong on bail on June 14, he was meant to travel back to the mainland two days later for further investigations. But instead of cooperating with the official line, Lam chose defiance. He skipped bail and held a press conference, recounting his alleged kidnapping and incarceration without charge for eight months. Lam claimed that he was forced to sign an agreement not to contact family or hire a lawyer, and that he was interrogated 20 to 30 times before making scripted confession on Chinese state television. He further alleged that mainland authorities asked for author’s names and released him to retrieve a hard drive with the names of customers. Another bookseller, Lee Po, who was kidnapped from Hong Kong in late December, reportedly accepted a similar offer.

Suspicions of secret renditions of booksellers have festered in Hong Kong since last year. Protests formed quickly outside the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong, beginning with 40 members of the Demosisto Party, which wants a 2047 referendum on Hong Kong sovereignty. But when Lam himself joined the demonstrations, conspicuously violating bail and leading to a groundswell in protesters, it was a clear indication that things were not going according to plan for Beijing.

Beijing’s Options
Beijing will now be forced to act. Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Hua Chunying declared that Lam was a Chinese citizen who violated mainland laws and authorities will handle the case accordingly. The next steps for Beijing are unclear, but no options are ideal. Their security forces clearly have the capability to snatch Lam — they did it before with the abduction of bookseller Lee Bo. But all of the local and international attention on Lam makes this a risky move. Beijing would also need to work through Hong Kong authorities, but there is no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and the mainland. Given Hong Kong’s sensitivity to encroachment on autonomy, attempts to strong-arm the Hong Kong government into turning in Lam would provoke protests and further political backlash. This would likely manifest during legislative council elections in September.

Pressures within Hong Kong have not subsided since the Occupy Central protests dispersed at the end of 2014. Beijing made no political concessions to mollify Hong Kongers’ concerns about the erosion of One Country, Two Systems, an arrangement lasting until 2047 under which Hong Kong is under the sovereignty of Beijing but is guaranteed autonomy from Beijing in its domestic affairs. Beijing got what it wanted — a degree of calm. But this came at the expense of Hong Kong’s political stability. Many in Hong Kong took away the lesson that peaceful protest tactics had failed. Many of these disillusioned activists also began to see independence from China as the one way Hong Kong could preserve its autonomy.

If Beijing goes after Lam or pushes the Hong Kong government to turn him over, this could catalyze protests against both Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities. The Fishball Riots in February began after a crackdown on street food hawkers. This showed that anxiety over the mainland’s increasing encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy is now so high that it takes very little for a protest to gain momentum Hong Kong. The quick upswing of protestors from 40 to 6,000 in the span of a day underscores this point.

Any action against Lam will only assist new Hong Kong nativist parties. After the Fish Ball Riots, new political groups formed in Hong Kong with platforms that openly supported Hong Kong Independence. This is illegal under the Hong Kong Basic Law, which stipulates that Hong Kong is a part of China. These groups are now trying to win representation in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in September elections. They will be able to turn their organizational capacity to organizing demonstrations, which will not likely hold to nonviolent principles. More radical parties such as the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party will not miss a prime opportunity to get their message out and build support. The rising strength of this new opposition in Hong Kong bodes ill for Beijing’s goal to maintain One Country, Two Systems.

Mainland Repercussions
The stakes in Beijing are also high. Lam’s revelations are bold: he claims that he had been interrogated by an ad hoc Central Investigation Unit. This was neither police, secret police, nor military, and reported to the highest level of party authorities. These teams are historically organized in times of extraordinary crisis when there is a pressing need to target high-level party officials. Most recently, they were reported to have taken a role in the takedown of Politburo Member Bo Xilai in 2011, and retired Politburo Standing Committee Member and Security Czar Zhou Yongkang in 2014.

If true, this confirms that the rendition campaign against the employees of Causeway Bay Books is just one small part of a much larger investigation. This investigation team does not appear to be running an operation for a general suppression of Hong Kong’s book stores — they targeted five employees of a single bookstore for its specific connections. The Communist Party appears to now be engaged in what may be an intense power struggle to decide not only China’s leadership at the 19th Party Congress, but the fate of the Chinese political system itself.

The contours of this struggle are ill-defined but it is highly intense, with rare rumors of assassination plots or attempts against top-level leadership leaking out in overseas Chinese press — a direct result of the breakdown of the post-Deng norm that the losers of political battles would not be personally harmed. In this struggle, long-term national goals are being sacrificed for the political and personal survival of dueling factions and individuals. This sacrifice of long term interests will contribute to volatile policy in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress in 2017, and potentially even after that.

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Why the Islamic State Is Weaker Than It Seems

*In Syria, the Islamic State will continue to lose cities and vital territory.
**The group will react to its losses by relying more heavily on insurgent and terrorist tactics, ensuring that it remains a serious threat.
***The continued disenfranchisement of Sunnis in Syria will enable the Islamic State, and groups like it, to maintain a foothold in the country.

for Isis story -2In Syria, the Islamic State is in crisis. Over the past three years, the group has managed to expand from a regional nuisance to a force with global relevance, declaring a caliphate in June 2014 that stretched from Iraq’s Diyala province to Syria’s Aleppo province. By doing so, it linked the two nations into a single zone of conflict and drew the attention of numerous powers, including the United States, Turkey and Russia. Today, the group maintains a presence from western Iraq to the Syria-Lebanon border — an impressive territorial spread.

But the breadth of the Islamic State’s holdings in Syria is deceptive. The group’s actual reach is largely limited to small, dispersed enclaves. The unbroken expanses of territory under its control are mostly empty desert. And a look at the group’s three core Syrian areas — northern Aleppo province, Raqqa and Deir el-Zour — shows how the Islamic State is steadily losing ground across its scattered, self-declared empire. Together, these territories form the foundation of the group’s power in the country and are critical to sustaining flows of revenue, fighters and materiel. Yet all three are under threat.

Even as its foundation erodes, the Islamic State will remain a significant and deadly force as it adopts new tactics. But although it will continue to win battles and take villages and cities, the extremist group’s peak in Syria is clearly past. The group’s strength will diminish despite its nominal gains. Even so, the Islamic State and groups like it will never fade completely as long as Sunni grievances persist.

Territories in Crisis

Northern Aleppo
The Islamic State’s major holdings in northern Aleppo province stretch from the city of Sawran in the west to Manbij in the east. The area is one of the most highly populated regions that the militant group controls, and because it borders Turkey, it serves as a transit point for smuggled supplies, weapons and foreign fighters — the last significant one the Islamic State has left. Northern Aleppo also contains the village of Dabiq, where the Islamic State believes a final, apocalyptic battle will take place.

Now, for the first time since the declaration of the Islamic State caliphate, northern Aleppo is under siege from three sides. Rebels from the city of Azaz have been pushing eastward into Islamic State territory, although their progress has been slowed by fighting with Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to their rear. To the south, loyalist forces backed by Russian air support took the area around Kweiris air base last November, breaking a two-year siege by the Islamic State. They are now poised to advance farther north to capture the town of al-Bab. Most important, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have launched a significant offensive west across the Euphrates River and are set to retake Manbij from the extremist group.

Under attack from the east, west and south, Islamic State forces in northern Aleppo are also constantly harried by Turkish cross-border artillery fire as well as Russian and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. It is no wonder that the group is quickly losing territory in the region. In fact, the Islamic State is so desperate to halt the Syrian Democratic Forces’ offensive that it has retreated from villages ahead of the Azaz rebels’ arrival to send reinforcements eastward.

But there is another loyalist offensive underway that, if it pans out, will pose an existential threat to the Islamic State’s northern Aleppo zone by completely cutting it off from the rest of the group’s Syrian territory. The operation, launched June 2, pushes toward the city of Tabqa on Lake Assad in Raqqa province, following the route of an earlier offensive that began in February but failed to make much headway. With higher levels of support and resources, the latest assault stands a good chance of blocking the road connecting northern Aleppo to the Islamic State capital of Raqqa. The loss of northern Aleppo, the route to Raqqa or smuggling routes into Turkey would be a serious blow to the extremist group.

for ISIS story -1Raqqa
The Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, is also in considerable danger. As in Aleppo, the greatest threat to Raqqa comes from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who launched an offensive to take the outskirts of the city in late May. Progress has been methodical but slowed by the training of the Arab fighters expected to spearhead the final assault on the city itself.

Meanwhile, if the loyalist advance on Tabqa that threatens the Islamic State in northern Aleppo is successful, it could eventually morph into an attack on Raqqa, which lies only 55 kilometers (34 miles) east. The race for Raqqa between the Russian-backed loyalists and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces will make the Islamic State’s ouster from the city more likely.

Such a loss would be devastating for the militant group. The city not only holds symbolic value as thecapital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, but it is also an important hub for people and supplies. Raqqa sits on the Euphrates River and is key to controlling several critical highways in Syria. It is also one of the largest populated cities in the Islamic State’s control and an important economic center surpassed only by Mosul, Iraq.

Deir el-Zour
Islamic State fighters are embroiled in a different set of challenges in Deir el-Zour than they are in the group’s two other cores. The city itself is contested by Islamic State forces and loyalist troops, but the militant group fully controls the rest of the province. Because the Islamic State has already lost its grip on the hydrocarbon deposits in al-Hasaka and Homs, Deir el-Zour is crucial both to its oil and to its position as a gateway to the group’s territory in Iraq. Although much of the province is desert, there are a number of population centers in the Euphrates River Valley.

Unlike northern Aleppo and Raqqa, Deir el-Zour is not yet under severe threat. In fact, the Islamic State even made progress recently in its effort to eliminate the remaining loyalist pocket in Deir el-Zour city. The group’s control of Deir el-Zour, therefore, will probably remain its most enduring in Syria.

Nevertheless, even in its most secure enclave, the Islamic State is not at ease. Multiple opponents are attempting to make inroads into the energy-rich region. To the north, the Syrian Democratic Forces have largely pushed the Islamic State out of al-Hasaka and have made some advances into Deir el-Zour province itself. But although these forces are focused on northern Aleppo and Raqqa, they are unlikely to stage significant offensives in the area and will instead carry out minor attacks to harass the Islamic State. To the west, government troops continue to try to advance from Palmyra toward Deir el-Zour to reach and relieve the city’s loyalist garrison before it is overwhelmed. Given the distance involved and the overstretched state of the loyalists, their efforts are unlikely to succeed anytime soon but will certainly take up some of the Islamic State’s attention.

Finally, a new rebel force known as the New Syrian Army is being assembled along the Syrian border in Jordan. Armed and equipped by Jordan, the United States and the United Kingdom, the New Syrian Army poses the greatest long-term threat to the Islamic State in Deir el-Zour because its personnel have substantial ties with the province, which they fled as refugees and fighters. The New Syrian Army is small at the moment, but it eventually plans to push across the desert of Homs toward Deir el-Zour.

Adapting to Survive
As the Islamic State has grown in strength, it has transitioned from being primarily a terrorist and insurgent movement to being one that deploys conventional battlefield tactics using large organized units, artillery and armor. The group’s adaptation has enabled it to capture significant territory in Syria and Iraq. But now the Islamic State could see its fortunes reversed. While the group’s three Syrian enclaves face greater pressure, conventional tactics will become less useful as attrition reduces its manpower and destroys its equipment. More pressing, though, will be the breakdown of the logistical supply chains needed to maintain large-caliber artillery and armored vehicles in the field. These logistics, after all, require a safe and well-resourced territory behind the front lines.

But this does not mean that the Islamic State threat will be neutralized. Instead, as the group loses territory it will evolve to survive new conditions, remaining extremely dangerous. Unable to effectively field and supply conventional fighting units, the Islamic State will turn to insurgent tactics and terrorist tradecraft to lash out at targets. Instead of focusing on controlling territory, the group will use insurgent methods to gain the flexibility and mobility needed to stage hit-and-run attacks on its enemies in an effort to gradually weaken them. These attacks will not pose an existential threat to the Islamic State’s foes, but they will continue to cause massive damage.

The mutation of the Islamic State has already begun. Deadly May 23 bombings in Jableh and Tartus reflect the group’s return to terrorist methods. At the same time, small bands of Islamic State fighters are waging an insurgency in the desert areas of Homs and in the Qalamoun Mountains along the Lebanese border. Mobile, dispersed and flexible units can continue to carry out operations in the Islamic State’s name even as the extremist group loses its grasp over numerous cities and provinces. Striking from the shadows, the Islamic State’s insurgency and terrorist operations will manage to exert influence in Syria long after the group’s armies are defeated in the field.

Indeed, the Islamic State and its successors will continue to thrive so long as grievances exist among the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria. Ousting the militant group from towns and provinces is a step toward stamping it out, since residents cannot rise up without outside help. Full eradication, however, will require accomplishing the less tangible task of turning the population against the Islamic State — something that can happen only if Syria’s civil war is resolved. As in Iraq and Libya, extremists in Syria are thriving on the instability of conflict zones and the gaps in government authority. The war between the loyalists and rebels not only serves as a distraction from the fight against the Islamic State but also perpetuates the very conditions under which groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra flourish. And unlike the offensive against the Islamic State, resolving this broader conflict will take more than airstrikes and rebel coalitions.

– by Omar Lamrani, Lead Analyst, Stratfor

(<a href=”https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/why-islamic-state-weaker-it-seems”>Why the Islamic State Is Weaker Than It Seems</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor)

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IS Seeks to Expand Its Reach in Bangladesh

STRATFOR report

ISIS IMAGEThe Islamic State is expanding its reach around the globe, and its latest focus is on Bangladesh.

In the newest edition of its glossy magazine, Dabiq, the head of Islamic State operations in Bangladesh, Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, discussed the group’s goals for the country.

The group has carried out some small attacks in Bangladesh, but it wants to conduct a large attack to boost its credentials among local jihadists and promote the interests of the larger organization.

As has been the case elsewhere, however, established jihadist groups in Bangladesh pose a challenge to the Islamic State’s ambitions.

Established jihadist groups in Bangladesh pose

a challenge to the Islamic State’s ambitions.

 

The biggest impediments to the Islamic State’s expansion in Bangladesh will be al Qaeda’s branch in the Indian subcontinent and its allies.

The two groups are already struggling in Iraq and Syria for leadership of the global radical Islamist movement, and this will create another front. Al Qaeda has a head start in Bangladesh, especially in the capital, Dhaka, thanks to leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In 2014, al-Zawahiri outlined the same plan al-Hanif is laying out now: to use Bangladesh as a point from which to expand into India and Myanmar. Al Qaeda also has a number of local allies with which the Islamic State will have to contend.

To fight back, the Islamic State will resort to large, spectacular attacks against foreign targets in Bangladesh to woo local jihadists to its camp. Recruiting experienced bomb makers and operational planners from abroad would go a long way in helping it do so.

Al-Hanif’s promise to expand Islamic State operations in Bangladesh should be taken seriously, especially his vow to take on rival extremist groups.

If provoked, al Qaeda and other groups already operating there will retaliate, dramatically raising the threat of terrorist activity in the country.

The Dabiq interview is exactly the kind of back-page news that could develop into front-page headlines if the threat is overlooked.

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