The Great Game and India

The latest version of The Great Game in Afghanistan is at an interesting point. The next 18-24 months are very crucial for the region and for India. US has set a deadline of July 2011 by which its troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan. This has obviously raised concerns about the security situation in the neighborhood. Strategists are postulating several scenarios for post July ’11 period. As far as India is concerned, the worst possibility is that Taliban would become much more stronger and Pakistan would gain a “strategic depth” that it had when Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11. India has good relations with the current regime in Afghanistan. If Taliban gains more influence in future, it would be bad news for India.

To counter Taliban, many believe that India should have a big military presence in Afghanistan as that would give us some leverage. This might sound good but is actually a very bad idea. One must keep in mind that US, whose military budget is greater than India’s national budget, had to finally leave Afghanistan after brokering a deal with Taliban. India does not have the resources to have a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Besides even if we succeed in influencing Afghanistan, terrorists can still continue their operations from Pakistan against India. The “strategic depth” in Afghanistan would always come at a very high price with very less or no reward for both India and Pakistan.

Besides, the roots of terrorism as correctly diagnosed by Obama administration lie in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. After a very long time, US has a favorable regime in Pakistan which is ready to crawl if asked to bend by Uncle Sam. Drone attacks have increased in post Musharraf Pakistan and we would get to see a lot more action within Pakistan against terrorists by US in the near future.  Besides if Indian interests are hurt in Afghanistan beyond a certain threshold, India always has the option of doing what it did after the Parliament attack in 2001. When India mobilized army on Pakistan border, Pakistan had to divert its forces from Afghanistan to its Indian border. This had affected the US campaign against Taliban in Afghanistan. India would always have this option which would be more effective and cheaper than having a strong military presence in Afghanistan.

Lets hope that good sense prevails and India does not end up taking the outsourced job of policing Afghanistan at the cost of our own interests.

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Audacity Of Hope

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‘Does your father eat people ?’ was one of the many questions that Obama was asked as a child. He faced discrimination not just from his classmates but also from his teachers who were curious about the tribe to which Obama belonged. Obama obviously did not forget those incidents as he vividly mentions them in his autobiography. But of course he moved on, graduated from Harvard Law School (on an education loan) and went on to become the President of his country at a time when the country is undergoing its worst financial crisis.

Obama’s rise will obviously inspire a lot of people in different parts of world. Under despotic regimes, it will give rise to yearnings for democracy. In India, Obama could also act as a source of inspiration for politicians who cannot think beyond their respective vote banks. Since the rise of Obama in US politics 22 months ago, the Indian media has been wondering whether India can too have an Obama. By an Indian Obama they mean someone from a minority or disadvantaged group who has the support of majority of Indians nevertheless. Naysayers caution that India is not US and so there would not be any Obama here. Little do they know racial discrimination has not yet been completely eradicated from the US and disparity between the Blacks and Whites is still big if not as big as it was some 40 years ago but that didn’t stop Obama.

Mayawati is often compared to Obama and there are some valid reasons to do so. She is a Dalit and not long ago Dalits were as marginalized and powerless as the Blacks in the US. In fact the ordeal faced by Blacks is nothing when compared to Dalits in India. Mayawati could become the Chief Minister of UP because of the support of upper castes and primarily Brahmins. This is equivalent to White conservatives of Deep South voting Obama which did not happen in this election (Florida is an exception) despite the fact that at the national level Obama got more White votes than John Kerry and as much as Bill Clinton got.

But the similarity ends right there. Despite winning votes from almost all caste groups and Muslims, Mayawati has not done enough as far as development of her state is concerned, to consolidate her support amongst various sections of the people. In fact she was more in news for a duel with the Gandhi family for Dalit votes which still remains Mayawati’s core constituency.

Obama on the other hand has no core constituency. In the 2004 Democratic Convention when he first said that there was no Conservative America or Liberal America but just the United States of America, it was not just an election rhetoric. This was proved when he quoted Lincoln in his victory speech saying, We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

Obama was not a black candidate running for the office of the President of America who happens to be very good. He was in fact a very good candidate who happens to be black. The Indian Obama wouldn’t be different.

Palin’s faith and our fate…

Sarah Palin could become the second most powerful person in the world this November. As soon as she was declared the Vice Presidential candidate by the Republican Party, there has been an onslaught of negative press against her i.e. her alleged extra marital affair, her picture in a Bikini, speculation that her youngest daughter is actually her daughter’s daughter who is not yet married (Yeah, this is indeed negative for a person whose target vote bank is conservative). All these news are from her personal life and I believe voters should not care about thir leaders personal lives as long as it is not affecting their work.

However, there is one aspect of her personal life which can affect us all. Palin was a member of Wasilla Assembly of God Church, for more than two decades since her teenage. The church, according to Wall Street Journal, believes that we are living in the end times and this was confirmed in 1948, with the founding of the state of Israel and thus conforming a Biblical prophecy of Jews returning to the Holy Land. Now can we rerally trust Palin with the Nuclear button if she has such beliefs ?

Reverend Ed Kalnins, pastor of the Wasilla Assembly of God church, told members that God put George Bush in office and that US is fighting a “holy war” in Iraq. We could have ignored Ed Kalnins belief if he would have been some Jihadi sitting in a cave in Afghanistan but he is pastor of the church which was attended by Sarah Palin for more than two decades and she still visits the church for meetings and conferences. Her only son is in Iraq for his military service or if Palin’s pastor is to be believed, a religious service. If Sarah becomes Vice President, how would she decide the future course of action ? Would it be aimed at finding a solution to the crisis or winning the “holy war” at any cost ?

Sarah Palin would have to clarify her stand considering the facrt that her faith has now become a big issue. Lets hope that Sarah no longer believes in her former church or if she does, the US voters keep this in mind when they vote in November because the results will affect not just US but the entire world.