Osama bin Laden

Congress and its’ Soz and Karra; and why India is worried

Saifuddin Soz is no ordinary Congress leader. Since 1980s, he’s often been in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha either on National Conference or Congress representation. A multiple-time Union minister, the last time under Manmohan Singh’s UPA between 2006-2009, he was one of the front-runners for the post of Vice-President in 2007 and 2012.

Soz draws his heft because of his influence in the Kashmir Valley. He surely has had access to separatist leaders of the state: A US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks claimed he was a go-between contact between the Indian government and secessionist forces. Indeed, the leaked cable of US Ambassador to India David Mulford to US State Department described Soz as a long-standing “contact” of the US Embassy’s political section.

Soz is now in news because of his new book. By claiming that the first choice of Kashmiris is independence, a stance similar to terrorists and secessionists for three decades now, he has put the glare on his party. Congress is also under the lens because the dreaded terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) run by Hafiz Saeed from Pakistan soil, has come out in praise of Congress.

In case the readers need a reminder, LeT has been banned as a terrorist organization by US, UK, European Union, Russia, Australia and of course India. Its stated objective is secession of Kashmir. A traumatized India has accused LeT for its involvement in the 2001 Indian Parliament and 2008 Mumbai attacks. Hafiz Saeed, as its founder in 1987, had received funding from Osama bin Laden.

Congress has further earned the ire of millions of Indians because one of its senior leaders, Ghulab Nabi Azad, once the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has accused Indian army of planning a  “massacre” in the Valley. Congress’ dug the knife deeper with its insensitive attempt to defend Azad, As millions see it, Congress is rubbing shoulders with the secessionists and are deep in trenches with them against the Indian army.

Congress may yet take action against Soz or slap the wrist of Azad. But discerners see no sign from them on standing next to the brave and beleaguered Indian army. Their human rights begins and ends on Kathua; there is never a word of praise when our jawans gun down a terrorist; never a drop of tear for their martyrdom or wailing widows.

On June 22, our security forces killed 4 terrorists identified with Islamic State (IS) in Anantnag district. In view of the oncoming Amarnath Yatra, starting this week (June 28), it was a laudatory achievement. The whole nation stood up as one to applaud the action. But how did Congress react???

I looked for reactions on Congress’ official stand on the matter and how its’ leaders have reacted. The Congress’ twitter handle has nothing on Soz or Azad or terrorists tackled: all it has is a retweet of PC Chidambaram and his concern “Will-there-be-a-war-with-Pakistan?” This time-tested tactics is to weaken the resolve of Indian state, peddle appeasement which in turn is an invitation to secessionist forces for the next strike.

Rahul Gandhi’s tweets? No mention. In any case the Congress supreme tweets once in two days. And when he does it is to run down Modi and his government. Shashi Tharoor? Blank.

And what about the partners Congress’ could be in bed with for upcoming elections? That mahagathbandan to “save democracy” in the country? Mamta Bannerjee? Blank. Akhilesh Yadav? Blank. Sitaram Yechury? Blank. Arvind Kejriwal? Blank. None of them have anytime for our forces; the sacrifices they make; the goals they achieve; the threats and cost they pay to themselves and their families. It is no different to the length these forces went to deny the “surgical strike.”

The message that goes across is alarming: that secessionists are acceptable but not our soldiers; that a terrorists’ life is valuable while the ones of soldiers is not; that India-breakers have unconditional support while those for India-Unity can go and jump from the Himalayas.

You may have a like or dislike for Narendra Modi; you may feel elated or cheated on account of his term so far; but you can’t be standing in support of secessionist forces. Those who want to rule India can’t be seen in sync with India-breakers.

(Post-script: While the readers ponder over the piece; it’s worth dropping a line on Tariq Hammed Karra who is a “Pakistan proxy” and “recently joined the Congress in the presence of Smt. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi,” as Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out in his press conference on Friday.

While you rush to google the man called Karra, keep this in the back of your mind that Lutyens Media more or less blanked out Prasad-on-Karra comments. But more on this, some other day, some other time).

 

Chabahar is a real deal for India

For its commercial and political implications, the Chabahar Port deal with Iran marks the finest achievement yet of Narendra Modi’s global engagements.

The commercial implications are obvious—India was hemmed in by Pakistan’s intransigence to refuse direct trade between India and Afghanistan and China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision had the potential to clamp manacles on India’s ankles.

In one stroke, India has freed itself from the curfew and it could now entertain visions of trade and infrastructure links with Middle East and Central Asia and still further with Russia and Europe.

Let’s take up the bare details before we look at the wider implications and how Pakistan, China and United States, the other key players in the region, would react to it—Afghanistan, as we know from the history of Hindu Kush in the colonial times, is a prized land. So far it was its geographical location but now is the promise of immense mineral wealth which, according to Geological Survey of United States, could be worth as much as $1 trillion, due to its iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium potential.

Afghanistan, unfortunately, has always attracted predators who couldn’t care less about the welfare of Afghan people; who could go to any length to destabilize it in order to retain a degree of control over the cursed land. United States, on one pretext or another, stays put in the name of eliminating terrorism while, as everybody knows, promoting the same in cohort with Saudi Arabia, and not long ago, Pakistan.

The birth of modern terrorism occurred in the wake of Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan as United States planted mujahideens, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia providing men, resources and ground support. The country was soon in chaos, split between war lords of one camp or other, and the lure of illicit heroin trade, which by a conservative estimate is second only to oil and gas in volume, has kept them involved. They aren’t going to leave the country in our lifetimes.

Afghanistan thus has every reason to distrust Pakistan—after all its bête noire Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar were traced there—and by inference United States. It sure receives significant infrastructural aid from China but so tied are the fortunes of the Middle Kingdom with Pakistan that Kabul can’t ignore the political implications.

India has diligently nurtured its ties with Afghanistan. Since 2001, it has provided Afghanistan with $2 billion development assistance. In December last year, Modi inaugurated Afghan parliament built on India’s aid of 90 million dollars. It has contributed $300 million on Salma dam and hydroelectric power plant at Herat which Modi is expected to inaugurate next month. In 2009, India had built a 217-km highway costing $100 million that links Zaranj with Delaram, located on Afghanistan-Iran border. From there, the local road connects to Chabahar.

India has always worried over its energy supply, most of which emanates from the Middle East. It receives 57 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East which would only increase manifolds in the coming years.  Saudi Arabia is its biggest supplier but knowing the close equation between the Arab kingdom and Pakistan, India has always been keen to get Iran on its side. The latter, for this very reason—after all the Middle East conundrum is largely a tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for dominance in Muslim world—seeks a natural affinity with India. Both nations have close cultural and historical ties. Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century.

Chabahar is located on the Gulf of Oman, just 80km away from Gwadar which is the cornerstone of China’s pivot to Pakistan. Chabahar is just 299km east of world’s most critical passageway for oil tankers, the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran urgently wants this port to work as 85 percent of its seaborne traffic is managed by its Bandar Abbas port in the Strait of Hormuz. However, this port can only handle 100,000-metric ton ships. Large ships first offload at the Jebel Ali port in the United Arab Emirates en route to Iran. In contrast, Chabhar is a deep-water port and could process large ships. Chabahar would also allow both India and Iran to access large parts of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Australasia.

India has so far committed $500 million on the Chabahar project. It’s also assisting the 500-km rail link between Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj. The free trade zone of Chabahar could also encourage investment by its industries in urea, smelter and aluminium etc. In 2012, India had already used the port to transport a 100,000 metric ton shipment of wheat to Afghanistan.

According to the JV plans, India will develop two berths in Chabahar, one to handle container traffic and the other a multi-purpose cargo terminal. The MoU includes the sea-land access route to Afghanistan. India has plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran which in turn would link up the Indian-built 223-km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan.

India has also allayed worries on Iran’s part over its pending $6.5 billion payment. It has begun the process of payment in Euros, as requested by Turkey’s Halkbank. A cash-strapped Iran urgently needs investment and repayment of dues.

It’s a win-win all situation for all three nations. Both India and Iran are surrounded by hostile powers; both need avenues to grow. Afghanistan would finally be able to access the Indian Ocean.

Don’t expect United States to sit and watch this alignment of India-Afghanistan-Iran to take shape. Already we hear of encroachment of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. US could again find a reason to impose sanctions on Iran. India too remains handicapped by its financial and regulatory hurdles.

But such is the opportunity in front of India, Afghanistan and Iran that one expects Chabahar Port to be a reality soon enough. There sure would be hurdles and interventions, but the three must stand together for their own good.