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India: Congress reduced as a minor party, BJP growing nervous

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It appears, the neutral Tamil voters without party affiliations and who had earlier voted for any party just freely: either AIADMK, or DMK or Congress or BJP or some other parties in order not to waste their franchise, now seem to think favoring the newly formed PWF, making it to emerge a strong coalition to take on the ruling AIADMK and leaving the DMK-Congress stay far away.

These neutral voters would welcome the emergence of People’s Welfare Front (PWF) as a genuine party to work for the welfare of Tamils and the state and as such consider the Vaiko-Vijayakanth led coalition as giving to public a natural hope of popular identity and real progress.

The arrival of the DMDK led by the matinee idol in Tamil films Vijayakanth to align with PWF led by Vaiko has not only considerably strengthened the coalition, but also annoyed DMK and BJP – both were eager to get Vijayakanth to their side to be used for elections and thrown out after the poll, sooner or later. BJP as a genuine people’s party with similar ideology, is worst affected by Vijaykanth’s decision to join the Vaiko’s PWF

Not only the Hindutva BJP but even the Congress party, abandoned by the ruling AIADMK, is placed much better than BJP in Tamil Nadu is now reduced to be a minor player in the ongoing poll scenario.

Worse, having been kept away by two major Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK, the BJP which declared it would form government in the South Indian state for the first time is nowhere in the picture.

In fact, the BJP is the now worst affected, rather “betrayed” party as not only Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi but even Vijayakanth could not trust its hidden agenda as part of Hindutva ideology. Politicians in Tamil Nadu, who had earlier promoted the Hindutva party for their own marginal benefits, now, after knowing that BJP has used them to increase its vote banks and seats in the state, is fully aware of poisonous BJP agenda and have distanced themselves from the BJP. In fact BJP has no real partners to get votes while those that have nowhere to go for alliance have decided to transfer their meager votes to BJP which makes no difference to the emerging poll equations in the state.

Earlier BJP had no presence in Tamil state and no seats in the TN assembly as Tamils did not like the party but later BJP floated a proxy Hindu Front in Southern part of the state in Kanyakumari district and won an MLA seat from Padmanabhapuram constituency – a traditional Congress (Kamaraj faction) and communist fort but BJPs’ propaganda machinery succeeded in poisoning the Hindu minds, winning the seat. BJP applies the RSS formula to catch the Hindu attention by insulting Muslims straight from the public platform. The policy of Islamophobia and terrorization of Muslims simultaneously worked well as a usual powerful strategy for the Hindutva party as it began getting party cadres to work for an overtly Hindu party and increase Hindu vote bank. Later, BJP’s alliance with AIADMK and DMK alternatively at state level helped it increase its vote share as well as seats in assembly; it even sent MPs to parliament. Today the Modi government has a minister representing Kanyakumari district who had won the seat by its alliance with DMK. BJP would fear that it would lose its place in the state soon.

The two main Dravidian (DMK and AIADMK), national (Congress and BJP) and Left (CPI and CPM) parties have watched helplessly as a string of Tamil nationalist and caste-based parties ate into their vote-shares but sought to make amends by co-opting them through electoral alliances. Though the Narendra Modi wave of 2014 saw the BJP-led NDA create a powerful third alternative, the coming together of the BJP, Vijayakanth’s DMK, S Ramadoss-led PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK has also unraveled.

Earlier, Congress, ruling the Centre, used DMK and AIADMK alternatively for electoral gains. BJP also used the same strategy to but increased its presence in the state. The Congress’s decline that began in 1996, after the split and the formation of the Tamil Manila Congress by Mooppanar, eroded Congress base in the state and it has continued unabated in the ensuing two decades. Though the BJP made some gains in the 1999 and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it can be safely said that national parties, including the Left, which was the main Opposition party in the 1950s before the ascent of the DMK, have lost the plot in Tamil Nadu. However, the party has retained some seats in the assembly.

Though the Congress was ousted from power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, it has, for the larger part of subsequent decades, been a significant political presence in the state. The Congress contested alone in 2014 and secured just 4.3 per cent of the vote share and drew a blank. After it gave up ambitions of retaking Tamil Nadu on its own steam, the Congress reconciled to playing second fiddle to the two main Dravidian parties through an arrangement where it cornered a lion’s share of the Lok Sabha seats. Both the DMK and AIADMK were keen to woo the Congress, mindful of its stature at the Centre and its power to dismiss democratically elected state governments under the much-misused Article 356 of the Constitution.

The Congress is now truly a shadow of its former self. The DMK, even while renewing ties with the Congress, was keen on enticing Vijayakanth and offering him a significant share of the seats. However, Vaiko, a former firebrand leader of the DMK who was expelled to make way for Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin, making him ‘rise’ politically to replace his father in due course, has kept the idea of the third alternative alive through the People’s Welfare Front, which includes the Dalit party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kachi (VCK), the Left parties, and now the Vijayakanth’s DMDK also.

Between 1977 and 1999, both the DMK and the AIADMK aggressively pursued alliances with the Congress. This resulted in a situation where the Congress won 14 out of 15 seats it contested in 1977; 20 out of 22 in 1980; 25 out of 26 in 1984; 27 out of 28 in 1989 and all 28 seats it contested in 1991.

The Congress under Rahul Gandhi launched a talent search across Tamil Nadu to rope in youngsters but the plan fell flat in the absence of a concrete political agenda for the future. The BJP in Tamil Nadu has also offered little beyond the tired slogans of Hindu consolidation. An AIADMK win in 2016 will not signify the consolidation of political space, but the fragmentation of its bipolar politics.

The charismatic leaders like MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi on the one hand and competitive populism on the other have shaped the agenda of the AIADMK and the DMK. The newer Dravidian parties have also imitated this strategy of leader-centric parties and populism. More damagingly, they were quick to enter into alliances with the DMK and AIADMK, and are no more seen as credible alternatives.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s remark that the Congress has been reduced to playing a tail-ending role to regional parties rings true in the context of Tamil Nadu. Its southern ally, the DMK, is hesitant to part with the 63 seats that were offered to the Congress in 2011. The Congress had come a cropper in that election winning only five seats forcing the DMK to rethink the utility of this alliance in the Lok Sabha elections.

While the Third Front is unlikely to win too many seats, it will snatch away many anti-incumbency votes from the DMK, but a couple of analysts say that might help the AIADMK improve the chances of retaining power.

In order to win the poll against the powerful AIADMK, rhetoric alone may not be sufficient, the PWF has to work more with a proper strategy, get votes of those who think they are unnecessarily supporting the corrupt parties in the state and they must consider a credible alternative to change their fate. People should now know why they should use the poll to change their destiny under threat from the DMK and AIADMK and also Congress and BJP. Vaiko should not miss the bus.

People of Delhi removed both the Congress and BJP, powerful national parties that were ruling Delhi state alternatively, with just one stroke last year and replaced them with a new common people’s party – Aam Aadmi party (AAP). While Congress party which rueld a few term consecutively couldn’t win even one seat in current assembly while BJP somehow managed just 3 seats in the 70 seated Delhi assembly. AAP got a historic mandate from Delhiites for its selfless service to the state.

People of Tamil Nadu can also do the same by choosing the People’s Welfare Party. Yes, why not?

Meanwhile, Dr Ramdoss’s PMK party needs to ponder over its decision to go it alone in the poll. If its key goal in the election is to change the corrupt DMK/AIADMK alternative governments, his party would be able to secure the majority need for a government formation. But by entering into poll alliance with a likeminded PWF, it can achieve it. That would give considerable hopes for other states with corruption index very high to opt for genuine pro-people government. Still there is time PMK for rethoughts!

The poll process in Tamil State has just begun with each party and coalition beginning to screen the candidate for each constituency and choosing the “right” persons for the contest. AIADMK, DMK and PWF seem to have completed much of the selection process, while BJP, still in a state of confusion, stands confused even at this stage.

Whether or not Tamil Nadu would succeed in choosing a truly new party or people’s coalition to rule the state would work for the people – and not for the parties, leaders and families – remains to be seen.

Tamil Nadu requires a fundamental change.

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South Asia

How the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal affects India

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Sandeep Sachdeva*

While India was guarded in it’s response to the withdrawal of US from the Iran Nuclear Deal, it surely realizes the implications of the US withdrawal. Iran is India’s third largest source of crude oil (after Iraq and Saudi Arabia) . Between April 2017 and January 2018, New Delhi imported well over 18 million tonnes of crude oil.

New Delhi has also invested in the development of the Chabahar Port Project, which will provide India, access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This project is extremely important for India, since it will help in bypassing Pakistan, which has continuously kept India out of the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). During Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Iran visit in May 2016, India had signed an agreement, committing 500 Million USD for the development of Chabahar. During Modi’s visit,  a trilateral transport and transit partnership was also signed between India, Afghanistan and Iran.

In February 2018, during Iranian President Rouhani’s visit  to India, a lease agreement was signed between India and Iran. The lease agreement gave operational control of Phase 1 of Chabahar Port (Shahid Beheshti port) to India. The Modi, Hassan Rouhani Joint statement mentioned the need for making Chabahar part of INSTC project and PM Modi further emphasised that “We will support the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link, so that Chabahar gateway’s potential could be fully utilised.”

Here it would be pertinent to point out, that to enhance connectivity with Afghanistan, India has also set up an India Afghan Air Corridor, two flights are currently operational; one connecting Mumbai with Kabul, and another which connects Delhi with Kabul.

Indian hopes

For the time being, New Delhi has rested its hopes on the fact, that European countries are trying to keep the deal intact, and US will also not impose sanctions on allies, including India, for engaging with Iran. Defence Secretary James Mattis in a Congressional hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had categorically stated,  that the US should be careful with regard to imposing sanctions against allies, under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Mattis said, that allies like India should be provided a national security waiver, against imposition of sanctions for the purchase of S-400 air defence missile system from Russia.

A number of US Congressmen and Senators too have echoed Mattis’ views saying that India is valuable ally and should be exempted from sanctions

What India needs to be cautious about

While India does have time to react to the sanctions re-imposed, and the fact that European countries are keen to keep the deal alive are important. Recent statements by the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton saying that Europe will not be immune from sanctions, and would ultimately fall in line needs to be closely watched.

Said Bolton in an interview with ABC’sThis Week:“Europeans are going to face the effective US sanctions — already are, really — because much of what they would like to sell to Iran involves US technology, for which the licenses will not be available.”

Bolton also stated, that these countries will ultimately realise that it is in their interest to go along with the US.

Earlier US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell advised Germany to re-consider business ties with Iran:‘German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately”.

New Delhi needs to strike a balancing act between Iran and US, but it also needs to have a clear plan of action to deal with US sanctions against Iran. In the past few years, India has successfully managed to balance relations between Iran and US, and Iran and Israel. Given the recent sanctions and the hawkish approach of the Trump Administration, it may be tough.

China factor

In the meanwhile, New Delhi would be well advised to follow closely China’s reaction to the withdrawal of US from JCPOA. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited three important countries Russia, China and Europe to save the JCPOA. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “it was hard-earned  deal, and China will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, keep communication and cooperation with all parties concerned, and continue to work to maintain the deal”.

The China factor doesn’t end here for India. Off late, ties between India and China have witnessed an improvement, during PM Modi’s recent China visit, it was decided. that both countries will undertake a joint project in Afghanistan. In recent months, there seem to be some indicators of lowering of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad as well.  Could, Beijing get New Delhi and Islamabad to discuss the issue of  transit trade to Afghanistan?  An opinion piece, ‘Pakistan’s military reaches out to India’, published in RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) discusses the willingness of Pakistan to discuss this issue, but India had turned down the offer in October 2017. Maybe New Delhi, could explore this option, and Beijing could support such an effort.

Conclusion

In conclusion, New Delhi will need to handle the current situation with great dexterity, while US is an important strategic partner, India has also got an opportunity to send an unequivocal message to Washington, that its own interests are paramount, and it will not blindly follow any one camp. In spite of all the challenges and upheavals likely to result from Trump’s decision, this also provides a golden opportunity for re-shaping the narrative within South Asia.

*Sandeep Sachdeva, Independent Foreign Policy Analyst

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South Asia

Ex-Pakistani Prime Minister puts Pakistani military and China on the spot

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked up a storm when he earlier this month seemingly admitted that Pakistan had supported militants who attacked multiple targets in Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

Mr. Sharif’s admission, which he has since tried to walk back, put a finger on Pakistan’s controversial policy of selective support of militant groups at a sensitive time. Pakistan is gearing up for elections that would secure its third consecutive handover of civilian political power.

Mr. Sharif’s remarks, moreover, stirred up a hornet’s nest because Pakistan is likely to next month be put on a watch list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors the funding of political violence and money laundering worldwide.

The remarks also put China in a difficult position. China has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on militants, particularly in the troubled province of Balochistan, the crown jewel in its Belt and Road-related $50 billion plus infrastructure investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Yet, at the same time, China has at Pakistan’s behest prevented the United Nations Security Council from declaring Masood Azhar, believed to have been responsible for an attack in 2016 on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station, as a globally designated terrorist.

The militants, dressed in Indian military uniforms fought a 14-hour battle against Indian security forces that only ended when the last attacker was killed. Mr. Azhar was briefly detained after the attack and has since gone underground.

Mr. Sharif’s made his remarks as China was building up its military infrastructure in Pakistan. The build-up is occurring against the backdrop of Pakistan risking being involuntarily sucked into potential attempts to destabilize Iran if Saudi Arabia/and or the United States were to use Balochistan as a staging ground.

In line with a standard practice in Pakistan that has repeatedly seen groups that are outlawed resurrecting themselves under new names, Lashkar-e-Taibe (LeT), the banned group believed to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be an LeT front, are  rebranding under a new name and as a political party, Milli Muslim League, that would compete in the forthcoming election.

The League is headed by Hafez Saaed, a former LeT leader, who was last year released from house arrest despite having been declared a designated global terrorist by the Security Council and the US Treasury, which put a $10 billion bounty on his head. China vetoed Mr. Saeed’s designation by the UN prior to the Mumbai attacks.

Activists, even though the party was last month designated by the US Treasury, are likely to run as independents in the election if the government maintains its rejection of the party’s registration.

So are operatives of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, a front for Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a banned, virulently anti-Shiite group that long enjoyed support from Saudi Arabia and operates multiple militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that have witnessed an injection of funds from the kingdom in the last two years.

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial? It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it. We could have already been at seven per cent growth (in GDP), but we are not,” Mr. Sharif said, referring to stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.

Taking Mr. Sharif’s comments a step further, prominent journalist and author Ahmed Rashid asserted that “the deep state of Pakistan is supporting the banned outfits as it has done in the past. This game should be stopped, and the government should show its commitment and sincerity in disarming these groups and not to allow them to enter into politics.”

Former Pakistani strongman General Pervez Musharraf, in an apparent manifestation of links between the circles close to the military and hardliners, said prior to the designation by the US announced that he was discussing an alliance with Mr. Saeed’s league.

Speaking on Pakistani television, Mr. Musharraf pronounced himself “the greatest supporter of LeT… Because I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been in favour of pressuring the Indian army in Kashmir,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence service are believed to favour integration of militants into the political process as a way of reducing violence and militancy in a country in which religious ultra-conservatism and intolerance has been woven into the fabric of branches of the state and significant segments of society.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail in Pakistan. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Chinese ambiguity about Pakistani policy goes beyond shielding Mr. Azhar from being designated. A Chinese-Pakistani draft plan last year identified as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

Security has since improved substantially in significant parts of Pakistan. The question, however, is whether integration of militants into the political process would stabilize Pakistani politics in the absence of a concerted effort to counter mounting ultra-conservative religious fervour in the country. It may be too early to judge, but so far the answer has to be no.

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South Asia

Analyzing CPEC Summit 2018

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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road initiative, prioritized by both the Governments of China and Pakistan to build a China-Pakistan community of shared destinies. The strategic partnership under the CPEC envisages number of projects among which Energy Security, Infrastructural Development , Connectivity, Trade,  Industrial   Parks,   Agricultural Development , Poverty Alleviation and , Tourism are highly prioritized. Recently the CPEC summit 2018 was held in Karachi on April 23, 2018 to discuss the importance of CPEC and to analyze updates about the progress and development of this project. Perhaps this was the first such event of its kind in which   representative from all the provinces participated. The summit not only discussed the progress and development of the CPEC but deliberated upon the issue of regional connectivity as the key component of the CPEC. On recalling the last five years’ journey of CPEC up till now, one can infer that indeed CPEC is a chain of connectivity not only within Pakistan but across the region as well. The summit also concluded that Pakistan and China are planning to extend CPEC towards Afghanistan as CPEC is not only about economic growth, but also about community building.

Analyzing the outcome of this summit, one discovers that under CPEC, the country has completed two power projects in Sindh, while another is on its way towards completion. CPEC has resulted in the optimal utilization of two commercial ports and the opening of Keti Bunder. Along with this, the development of commercial ports is also in line with the CPEC plan. The project pledges provincial harmony and timely cooperation and facilitation in this regard.  As far as the electric power is concerned currently930 megawatts of wind energy is produced in Sindh alone for the national grid. Moreover a large chunk of electric power comes from those three Projects which are part of early-harvest program. In addition to this some 300MW is generated through wind power projects and would be part of the grid once the projects are completed in October 2018.

Following this progress rate CPEC is economically beneficial for all the provinces of Pakistan. KPK is contributing nearly 15pc of Pakistan’s natural gas output. In hydropower, KP has the potential of producing 30,000MW of energy. The two hydropower projects located at Chitral are also part of the CPEC framework.

Moreover another important aspect which was analyzed in this CPEC Summit 2018 is the idea of a separate ministry for logistic and transport so that this massive demand for the logistic and transport can be well managed.  Once this separate ministry is formed, the work will be done in the shortest possible time thus resulting in faster growth. Businessmen, stakeholders and industrialist also showed their interests in promoting business through CPEC.  Surely there is a need for joint ventures between local and Chinese companies to enhance Pakistan’s industrial base and productivity.

Eventually once the CPEC project is completed Pakistan will become a hub for transshipment trade. Most of Pakistan’s posts- through which trade is being carried out, are complaint to Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) or International Road Transports. Therefore there is no issue of compliance or connectivity under TIR. It will be easier to import goods and products in other countries thus developing more options for Trade and investment through CPEC.

The initial Phase of CPEC projects of the early harvest program are completed. Now the second phase the long term plan of the CPEC has been started that focuses on industrial activity and agriculture which would be completed by 2025.  Currently work on the Long term Plan is under way, after that in order to take its final shape in 2030 CPEC would be completed and people to people contact will develop, thus resulting in shared trade communities.

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