I imagine myself walking down to the Beirut train station, boarding the 4pm bullet train that will steam off toward Damascus, heading across the great plains to the east to Baghdad. In a day we’ll be in Iran and then at Mashad there is a choice: one could go south through Pakistan to Delhi, or one would take the longer journey to Beijing via Samarkand. This would be the Great Asian Express that links one end of the massive continent to the other.
But it is impossible. War in Syria stops the train before it has even begun. Instability in Iraq intimates that the tracks would be blown up before they can be laid down. Iran is far more stable, which is why it has begun to build a train line that would link Turkey to Turkmenistan through northern Iran. Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are unable to create a modus vivendi that would welcome such a train, or indeed an oil and gas pipeline that might run parallel to it, bringing Iranian fuel to the consumers of the subcontinent. Central Asia oscillates between long periods of calm and bursts of dangerous violence.
A train itinerary such as the one I described sounds like a dream history – impossible even. But it is not so out of our time. The Trans-Asian Railway comes out from the 1960s, a historical artefact, a project of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific that was finally brought to the stage of an inter-governmental memorandum of understanding in 2006. This Iron Silk Road is to run from Singapore to Istanbul. The project has no timetable. Parts of it are already present, and parts of it are in the maddening future. But some of it will form part of the China-Iran rail link which is expected to go into production within a decade, and will form part of the Istanbul to Tehran route that is also already in production. Not so far that regional future.
Regionalism rests on the mantle of geography. Attempts to isolate a country for ideological reasons do not always work. The West, since 2003 at least, has attempted to isolate Iran but it cannot do so – Afghanistan, under US occupation, buys half its oil from Iran. It cannot do otherwise. Any other source would be ridiculously overpriced. The US embargo of Iran had to be violated despite the fact that it was US money in Afghan hands that was buying the Iranian oil.
Pressure from the US and the desire of the Indian political and economic elites for a close link with the US befuddled India’s Iran policy between 2003 and 2013. India is the second largest importer, after China, of Iranian oil. In the halls of the Non-Aligned Movement, India is a country that is greatly respected.
Through a nuclear deal – as I detail in my new report on India’s Iran policy, the US was able to push India to vote against Iran twice at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings in exchange for being brought out of the nuclear winter itself. As the sanctions regime on Iran tightened, India found it hard to buy oil from Iran and coldness between the countries set in as a result of India’s seeming eagerness to toe the US line. But beneath the surface of the IAEA votes and the statements against the buying of Iranian oil, linkages deepened – on oil buying certainly but also on the trade in pharmaceuticals and wheat as well as on the Indo-Iranian construction of a port in south-eastern Iran (at Chabahar). The sanctions regime had certainly throttled Iran, but it could not sunder fully the imperatives of regional trade.
On Sunday, November 24, the P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) + 1 (Germany) signed a deal with Iran to end the siege on the latter. The P5+1 promised to ease the sanctions regime in exchange for Iran’s disavowal of a nuclear weapon.
India welcomed the deal, suggesting that it was along the grain not only of Indian policy but also of the BRICS declaration from 2013 (“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue,” was the wording of the eThekwini Declaration).
India’s oil firms promised to hastily transfer arrears held in Indian banks for oil purchased during the previous years (now totalling $5.3 billion), and to increase orders for Iranian oil. The latter would be facilitated by the end to the pressure on insurance firms who then refused to underwrite oil tankers coming out of Iran.
India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh met with Iran’s Deputy Prime Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour on Monday, November 25, and agreed that there is “considerable untapped potential to develop economic cooperation between the two countries particularly in the area of energy and transit.” India and Iran have already been at work building the Chabahar port, and India is building a 900 km train track to link the port to the Hajigak region in Afghanistan. Dreams of oil and gas pipelines and train lines remained suspended over the gathering like a huge exclamation mark.
What these developments indicate is that the time of US primacy is now over and the time of multipolar regionalism is at hand. From 1991 to the present, the US had attempted to forge strong bilateral ties with its chosen allies and sought to knit those allies into a planetary security web of military bases and inter-operatable armed forces; this was the hub and spoke system that James Baker had written about in 1992. That system meant that regional ties had to be sacrificed for the close linkages to the United States. Latin America, through the Bolivarian dynamic, was the first region to exit from the US strategy and create its own regional architecture (for political, economic and social linkages). An over-extended US military presence in Asia and the collapse of the finance-led economic model in 2008 weakened the US considerably.
The example of Latin America gave confidence for the new India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) formation, the antecedent of the BRICS bloc. With the quiet emergence of the BRICS bloc in the context of a weaker West, it was inevitable that the siege of Iran would have to be lifted. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Li uncharacteristically told the Chinese media that his country played a crucial role in concluding the deal. Pressure from Russia and China on the European Union pushed them to bring a wayward France in line. No longer can an imperial foreign policy dominate international policy without challenge. That is the lesson of the Iranian deal.
Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
- India will continue to engage Iran in economic activities (rediff.com)
- Post-deal with world powers, Iran briefs India on moving ahead (thehindu.com)
- PressTV: US extends Iran oil sanctions waivers (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
Shops, businesses, and schools have been closed with public transport off the roads in the Indian-controlled Kashmir after a pro-independence group called for a strike to protest recent civilian killings in the mountainous Himalayan region.
On Saturday, the shutdown was observed across the disputed territory following a call given by the leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is a political front formed as an alliance of 26 political, social and religious organizations in Kashmir.
Contingents of Indian police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed to Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and other major towns on Saturday to prevent people from holding anti-India demonstrations.
Most of the pro-independence leaders, including Geelani, chairman of the Awami Action Committee Mohammad Umar Farooq and chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Mohammad Yasin Malik, also remained under house arrest.
The pro-independence leaders were placed under house arrest on Friday after they called for a march to the southern town of Shopian to protest against the killing of five people.
Shopian has been under curfew for two weeks, following the killing of five people in two paramilitary shootings.
Four people were killed on September 7 when Indian paramilitary forces opened fire on them in Shopian, situated about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Srinagar. Paramilitary troops killed another person in the same town on September 11.
Kashmir lies at the heart of more than 60 years of hostility between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region in full but each only has control over a section of the territory.
Over the past two decades, the conflict in Kashmir has left over 47,000 people dead by the official count, although other sources say the death toll could be as high as 90,000.
Indian security forces have shot dead at least two people in the north of Indian-administered Kashmir, prompting huge anti-India protests.
An Indian police official said that soldiers surrounded a few houses in the village of Markondal in Bandipora District, about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of the main city of Srinagar, before dawn on Sunday.
A teenage boy was killed during a search operation.
A second person was killed after the Indian army shot at local residents who were protesting the earlier deadly incident. According to witnesses, three other people were also wounded.
The killings triggered mass protests in the area. Angry demonstrators chanted slogans against the Indian army.
Reports coming out of Kashmir suggest that Indian authorities are considering imposing a curfew to defuse tensions in the region.
Kashmir lies at the heart of more than 65 years of hostility between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region in full but each only has control over a section of the territory.
Over the past two decades, the conflict in Kashmir has left over 47,000 people dead by the official count, although other sources say the death toll could be as high as 100,000.
- Singh visit prompts protests (morningstaronline.co.uk)
The disconnect between nuclear power realities and the Indian establishment’s perceptions is complete. Nuclear power has been in worldwide decline for more than a decade. The number of operating reactors peaked in 2002 at 444, but has fallen to under 380. Their output peaked in 2004, and has since decreased annually by two percent or more.
Nuclear energy’s contribution to global electrical generation has declined from its sixteen percent peak to barely eleven percent. Its share in global primary energy supply has fallen to a marginal four percent and of final energy consumption to a minuscule two percent. By contrast, renewable sources [primarily hydro-power] account for 16 percent of global primary energy.
The sixty-year-old nuclear power technology is exhausted. It has seen no major innovation recently, partly because it has been in severe retreat for a quarter-century in its heartland – western Europe, North America and Japan, which host two-thirds of the world’s nuclear fleet.
The US – which has the world’s largest number of reactors – has not installed a single new reactor since 1973. In western Europe, no reactor has been commissioned since Chernobyl (1986). And Japan now runs only two of the 54 reactors it operated before Fukushima.
Exorbitantly expensive nuclear power has failed the market test and globally lost over one trillion dollars in subsidies, abandoned projects, cash losses, etc. No bank will finance reactors; no insurance company will cover them.
Nuclear power evokes fear and loathing everywhere because of its grave public hazards, including exposure to cancer-causing radiation, potential for catastrophic accidents, and the problem of storing highly radioactive wastes for thousands of years, to which science has found no solution. These hazards are magnified by secrecy, technocratic domination and collusion between operators, regulators and governments.
Fukushima is likely to prove the last chapter in the global nuclear power story. When they retire, most of the world’s 160-odd reactors which are 30 or 40 years old won’t be replaced with new ones.
Indian policymakers are totally blind to this. Driven by irrationality, the domestic nuclear lobby, and relentless pressure from foreign reactor manufacturers and governments (to whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised lucrative contracts for backing the US-India nuclear deal), they are pursuing their fantasy of a 12-fold expansion in India’s nuclear capacity by 2032.
They are oblivious of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy’s appalling record. The DAE, argues physicist-analyst MV Ramana, derives its power from the Bomb and the promise of abundant power. It hasn’t delivered even ten percent of the promise – eg 43,500 MW by 1980. It has never completed a project on time, or typically without a 300 percent cost overrun. It has so far installed just 4,780 MW in nuclear capacity – under 2.5 percent of India’s current total.
The official nuclear fantasy now extends to two Russian-supplied reactors being built at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, against which the local people have waged a resolute, two decades-long, peaceful struggle. This gathered great momentum after the Fukushima meltdown began in March 2011.
The government has viciously maligned and savagely repressed the movement with arbitrary arrests, FIRs against more than 200,000 people, and charging thousands with sedition, waging war on the state, and attempt to murder. It betrayed its promise not to implement the project until people’s safety concerns are fully allayed.
Meanwhile, evidence piled up that Kudankulam’s operator, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), violated numerous safety regulations and missed some 20 officially announced commencement deadlines because of serious engineering problems, including supply of sub-standard equipment by Russian company ZiO-Podolsk whose CEO has been jailed for fraud.
Exasperated, an environmental group moved a writ petition seeking the Indian Supreme Court’s intervention in implementing safety norms and enforcing accountability. The petition showed that Kudankulam lacks proper environmental and coastal zone regulation clearances, that the NPCIL has breached norms stipulated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), and that it has no plans for hazardous spent-fuel storage.
The court pronounced judgement on May 6, clearing the plant’s commissioning while declaring it safe. The verdict trivialises safety concerns, declares nuclear energy indispensable for India’s progress, legitimises the malfunctioning nuclear establishment as infallible, and propounds a perverse notion of the public interest which runs against the constitutionally guaranteed right to life.
The verdict will go down as an anti-people, anti-environment black mark in Indian jurisprudence. Its greatest failure lies in dogmatically denying that nuclear power poses certain unique hazards. Even a conservative, but thoughtful, judgement would have acknowledged this and explored ways of minimising the hazards while boosting transparency and public confidence. This verdict doesn’t.
It declares nuclear power unproblematically safe, and says the Kudankulam reactors satisfy all environmental and safety criteria, based on the say-so of the AERB, DAE and NPCIL – all interested parties! It refuses to recognise the fact that the AERB is not independent, but a subordinate agency of the DAE, to whose secretary (also the Atomic Energy Commission chairman) it reports. The NPCIL is a wholly owned DAE subsidiary.
The AERB has no personnel, equipment or budget of its own. Recently, it was gravely indicted by the comptroller and auditor general of India for failing to fulfil its mandate to evolve and enforce safety standards. Former AERB chairman A Gopalakrishnan calls it a “toothless poodle”. But the verdict uncritically accepts the AERB’s certification of the Kudankulam reactors as safe, ignoring the gross conflict-of-interest involved.
The judgement simply bypasses numerous site-specific issues, including vulnerability to tsunamis, a history of volcanic activity and geological instability, and absence of an independent freshwater source, which is absolutely critical to all reactors.
The verdict ignores the NPCIL’s brazen violations of the AERB’s reactor-siting norms – viz, there must be “zero population” within a 1.5-kilometre radius of a reactor, and a maximum of 20,000 people within a further five- kilometre radius. But at least 5,000 people live within a 1.5- kilometre distance, including over 2,000 in a new rehabilitation colony with 450 tenements, which is less than 800 metres away. By NPCIL’s own admission, 24,000 people live within a five-kilometre radius, according to the 2001 census. Their number must be much greater in 2013. This too is ignored.
According to another norm, no fuel should be loaded in a reactor until a full emergency evacuation drill is conducted in a 16- kilometre radius. This never happened. The judgement ignores this, and also the fact that the plant lacks proper coastal zone regulation and environmental clearances. Equally ignored is the NPCIL’s non-compliance with the seventeen recommendations made by a special safety committee post-Fukushima.
The verdict dismisses people’s safety apprehensions, heightened after Fukushima, as a mere “emotional reaction”. It declares radiation exposure as a “minor inconvenience” which must be subordinated to the “larger public interest” of promoting nuclear power, which is indispensable to growth and will “uphold the right to life in a larger sense”.
The judgement’s worst part is the vile assertion dismissing “apprehension” about hazards, “however legitimate”: “Nobody on this earth can predict what would happen in future and to a larger extent we have to leave it to the destiny (sic)”. That is, the public must live with unacceptable hazards.
The verdict’s sole positive feature is its order to lift all false cases against the protesters. It otherwise lacks reason or logic, and is suffused with fatalism, irrationality and moral misjudgement.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Turkmenistan is persevering with efforts to persuade an international oil major to join the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, according to reports in India, despite being unwilling to give up a stake in its gas fields to potential investors.
A series of road shows in New York, London and Singapore in the autumn, aimed at attracting international oil and gas companies to the project, ended in failure, even though companies including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, BG Group, RWE and Petronas attended. That disappointment flew in the face of claims from Turkmen officials that they had all expressed an interest in the project, which carry gas from the secretive Central Asian state via Afghanistan to the Indian sub-continent.
Ashgabat’s refusal to allow participating companies to take a stake in the Turkmen hydrocarbons fields that would fill the pipeline has been cited as the main reason for the flop, although the continuing instability in Afghanistan is another factor.
India’s Economic Times cites an unnamed Indian government official as saying that, as the four participating countries prepare for a meeting on May 15, Turkmen officials continue trying to persuade an unnamed international oil major to take part. “Our understanding is that [Turkmenistan is] quietly working with international oil companies to work a way around the question of upstream stake,” the official said.
However, he also noted that the ban on sales of stakes in Turkmen fields to foreign buyers remains a sticking point. “They have told us that they have passed a law after the Chinese were given a stake and this now does not allow them to give a stake to anybody else in the gas fields,” the official said. It’s unclear to which deal he was exactly referring.
Ashgabat is secretive over its agreements in the oil and gas sector. In 2007, China’s CNPC was given the right to develop the Bagtyyarlyk gas field, which supplies the Central Asia-China (CAC) gas pipeline exporting to China. However, the level of access Bejing enjoys to the Galkynysh (previously South Yolotan) gas field remains unknown after the Chinese State Development Bank pledged $4.1bn to help develop it in 2010. On the one hand, it’s thought Turkmenistan may have signed over a stake. Other speculation suggests Ashgabat has offered no more than a firm commitment that CAC is filled.
Either way, India is clearly pushing for a similar level of security. It has been pushing for an equity stake in the massive Galkynysh for itself, to ensure supply issues do not compromise the massive financial commitment needed to build TAPI. Indian officials say that since CNPC has been given access to upstream assets in Turkmenistan, India’s state owned GAIL should have the same privilege.
At the same time, the four states participating in TAPI have maintain that they aim to start construction of the pipeline, which has support from the Asian Development Bank, by the end of 2013. However, on top of the jockeying between themselves, they are trying to drum up support from international oil companies to invest in the project, which may cost as much as $12bn.
Agreements on the price of gas exports to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan have already been signed. In September, the four participating governments agreed to proposal from Turkmenistan to set up a company with shared capital of $20m to carry out a feasibility study and design the pipeline.
Tehran: In a strategically significant move to counter China’s presence in the region, India has announced that it will upgrade Iran’s crucial Chabahar port that gives a transit route to land-locked Afghanistan.
India’s decision was conveyed by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Tehran today during his meeting with his counterpart.
An expert team from India will visit Iran to assess investment needed for the upgrade of the port on the Iran-Pakistan border facing the Arabian Sea. Sources say an investment to the tune of $100 million is required for the upgrade.
The move comes despite strong pressure from America, which doesn’t want any investment in developing infrastructure in Iran to put pressure on the Western Asian country over its covert [sic] nuclear programme. But India has been worried and keen to open an alternative route to Afghanistan ever since China took over Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the region, which is just 76 km from the Chabahar port.
Chahbahar port, which is surrounded by a free trade zone, is crucial particularly since Pakistan does not allow transit facility from India to Afghanistan.
India will also discuss ways to increase trade with Iran as it is concerned over the “grave” imbalance. The two-way trade is around US $15 billion, out of which Indian exports account only for around US $2.5 billion.
Oil is the biggest item of Indian import from Iran but India feels there is a lot of scope for increasing Indian exports to the Persian country particularly in pharmaceuticals and food.
However, efforts to enhance trade have been facing hurdles because of sanctions imposed by the UN and European Union, which make payment difficult.
There are also problems like re-insurance of oil refineries and transportation of consignment from Iran because of the sanctions.
- India to sign pact with Iran soon to ship goods to Afghanistan (en.trend.az)
- Iran, India to discuss gas pipeline extension (news.in.msn.com)
- Iran, India set to ink economic co-op MOUs (alethonews.com)
TEHRAN – Iran and India will hold a joint economic meeting in Tehran in the upcoming days, during which the two sides will sign six memorandums of understanding, the Iranian ambassador to India stated.
Iranian foreign minister Ali-Akbar Salehi and his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid will chair the meeting, ILNA quoted Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari as saying on Monday.
The issue of exporting Iranian gas via the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to India will be also discussed, Ansari said.
India and Iran must work together to further promote trade and economic links, increased people- to-people contacts between them and within the region, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has said.
The two countries plan to reach $25 billion in annual bilateral trade in the next four years.
India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister M. Veerappa Moily has emphasized that his country will not halt imports of Iranian crude oil, rejecting recent Western news reports to the contrary.
While noting that unilateral anti-Iran sanctions by the US and the European Union have caused some difficulties for India in terms of insuring Iranian oil shipments, Moily told reporters in New Delhi that his country intends to establish a special fund for insuring oil imports originating from the Islamic Republic, IRNA reported on Tuesday.
The remarks by the Indian official came in response to the Western media reports on New Delhi’s decision to halt its Iranian oil purchases, which he strongly denied.
Meanwhile a deputy petroleum minister in India further reiterated that details of an insurance fund for Iranian oil shipments will be outlined in the near future, noting that the country’s national insurance companies, Oil India Development Board as well as major players in the nation’s oil industry will contribute funds to the insurance fund.
According to the report, Western media outlets, particularly Reuters have cited unnamed and unofficial sources in recent weeks who pointed to the possibility that India will soon halt its crude imports from Iran.
Indian officials, however, have insisted on continued oil imports from Iran while reiterating that they will not submit to the Western pressures on the issue, the report further adds.
India is among Asia’s major importers of energy, relying on the Islamic Republic to satisfy a portion of its energy requirements.
- US renews Iran sanctions waiver for Japan and 10 EU countries (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ancestral land that for generations has served as home and livelihood for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Ethiopia is being leased out, on 99-year renewable contracts at nominal sums to foreign corporations. The land giveaway or agrarian reforms as the government would prefer to present them began in 2008 when the Ethiopian government, under the brutal suppressive Premiership of Meles Zenawi invited foreign countries/corporation to take up highly attractive deals and turn large areas of land over to industrial farming for the export of crops. India, China and Saudi Arabia were all courted and along with wealthy Ethiopians have eagerly grabbed large pieces of land at basement prices; rates vary from $1.10 to $6.05 per hectare (HA), comparable land in India would set you back $600 per ha.
A total of 3,619,509 ha, the Oakland Institute (OI), a US based think tank, estimate has been leased out. Land made available by the forced re-location of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people under the government’s universally condemned Villagization progamme, which aims to forcibly re-locate over 1.5 million people from their homes.
Indian corporations have taken the lion’s share, acquiring around 600,000 ha concentrated in Gambella and Afar, split between 10 investing companies. The term ‘investing’ implies benefits for Ethiopia, which is misleading; ‘profiteering’, or ‘exploiting’ sits closer to the truth of these land deals, as the OI make clear, “taking over land and natural resources from rural Ethiopians, is resulting in a massive destruction of livelihoods and making millions of locals [farmers and pastoralist communities] dependent on food handouts”. With small scale farmers being evicted from their land, prices of staples such as Teff, used by millions throughout Ethiopia to make Injera (bread), has rocketed in price, according to Ethiotribune 22/5/2012, increasing fourfold since 2008.
Corporate expansionism: small change big profits
In line with its ambitions of diversity and world food dominance – Karuturi Global, the world’s largest grower of roses, leads the Indian charge, leasing 311,700 ha in Gambella. Not satisfied with this, GRAIN (an international NGO, working to support small farmers) report Mr.Karuturi “wants to set up farming operations [throughout Eastern and Southern Africa] on more than 1 million [ha]” – too much never enough in corporate expansionism.
Almost a quarter of Gambella’s 25 million ha has been earmarked by the federal government for agricultural ‘development’. Karuturi, whose profits “rose 55.13% to Rs 1.21 crore [10 million] in the quarter ended June 2012”, took their chunk without even seeing it, paying only $1.10 per ha. For the Indian giant it is, John Vidal in ‘Land Grab Ethiopia (LGE)’ says, “the sale of the century”. ‘Green Gold’ is how Mr. Karuturi in GRAIN (‘Who’s Behind the Land Deals’), describes his 300,000 ha of Ethiopian soil, “for which he pays $46 per ha per year including water and labour and expects at least $660 [per ha] in profit per year”. (Ibid)
In addition to paddy, Indian farmers are being sub-contracted to grow maize, cereals, palm oil and sugarcane amongst others. All of which are destined for export, either to India or Europe, where companies farming in Ethiopia (and other Sub-Saharan African nations), benefit from lower import duties applied to developing countries, notwithstanding the fact that the land is leased to, and the crops produced and sold by, multi million-rupee rich companies.
Another major Indian company leasing land in Gambella is the decidedly green sounding BHO Bioproducts. Following the corporate rhetoric, BHO Chief Operating Officer Sunny Maker told Bloomberg in 2010 that, they have “plans to invest more than $120 million in rice and cotton production”, which, by 2017, should “generate about $135 million a year from sales divided equally between domestic [Indian] and international markets.” He added that the “incredibly rich fertile land”, will all be “cleared within the next three years”. Cleared yes, violently, indiscriminately and totally; villages, people, forests, woodland, all destroyed, burnt, relocated, displaced, desecrated. The governments promise to such prized investors is that the land is handed over stripped of everything and everyone. Dissent is not allowed and dealt with brutally should it occur, as Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of OI makes clear. “The repression of social resistance to land investments is even stipulated in land lease contracts, [it is the] state’s obligation to ‘deliver and hand over the vacant possession of leased land free of impediments’ and to provide free security ‘against any riot, disturbance or any turbulent time.”
The ‘rich fertile land’, lovingly cultivated at the hands of the men and women who have farmed it for generations, is unlikely to be nurtured so carefully by Indian (or indeed Chinese or Saudi Arabian) corporations with their thirsty ‘GM seeds’ (Ibid). For as Oxfam in their detailed report ‘Land and Power’ diplomatically point out, “investors short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation, undermining agricultural production.”
The devolution of development
Land is a prime cut asset in the commercialization of everything, everywhere, and the “rich fertile land” in Ethiopia is cheap, even by Sub-Saharan African standards. Along with long-term leases, the government offers a neat bundle of carrots, including tax incentives and unrestricted export clauses, incentives that the OI state “deny African countries economic benefits” from land deals that the Ethiopian regime wraps up neatly in its complete disregard for the human rights of the indigenous people. Government indifference encouraging corporate irresponsibility – and they need little encouragement. Businesses hardly seem to be grabbing the land, so much as accepting it as a gift, parceled up and ready to be torn open.
In exchange for such attractive deals, the Ethiopian government has been extended, the OI reports “a $640 million line of credit… over five years to boost sugar production in the country’s Lower Omo region”. Not a philanthropic gesture, more a sales trap by India’s EXIM (export and import) Bank, who stipulate, “Ethiopia must import 75% of the value of the credit line in the form of Indian goods and services.”
The government-owned sugar plantations in the Lower Omo are themselves attracting a great deal of concern and criticism from human rights groups, who highlight the environmental and human damage being perpetrated. Government acts of violence and abuse, in the various land deal regions, are justified under the overused and misleading title of ‘development’; a term appropriated by the international monetary machine – the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) primarily – misunderstood and distorted by government development agencies, acting in line with foreign affairs policies by promoting national self interest and perverted by the corrupt ideologically-blinkered governments of developing nations. An undeveloped ideological trinity whose actions have drained the 21st century sacred cow and its stable mate ‘growth’ – dry of any true and relevant meaning. Far from supporting human and or social development the “unfair terms and near give-away prices [of land deals]… are hindering development…. Foreign corporations and the World Bank are pressuring African leaders to give them exemptions from taxes, import and export duties, and local labor laws – not to mention water and mineral rights that could be worth billions”, the OI confirm.
More concerned with sitting at the top table and cultivating the right international allies than with doing their constitutional duty and serving the needs of the people, the Ethiopian government is in danger of giving away, and for peanuts, it’s ‘rich and fertile’ land to overseas companies who have no interest in Ethiopia, it’s environment, its culture and even less in its people.
Hunger and poverty stalk the land of both Ethiopia and India. 12 – 15 million people survive on food aid in Ethiopia, which ranks at the bottom of the World Hunger Index at 76. India, with the highest rate of malnourished children in the world, where 25% (around 270 million) of the world’s hungry live, despite the fact that, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), “the country grows enough food for its people”, comes in 65th of the hungriest nations, below Niger and the Sudan – neither of which, to my knowledge, boast 61 billionaires and 200,000 dollar millionaires unlike India. And whereas “most countries have made consistent progress in reducing hunger, India has seen hunger rise over the last decade compared with the late 1990s.”(Ibid) This so-called economic miracle nation refuses to feed it’s own people.
Food insecurity, the WFP makes clear is caused not by lack of produce, but by an unwillingness to share the Earths bounty equitably. The states in India with the greatest numbers suffering from hunger and malnutrition, as per WFP records, “include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh”; these are the states where the poorest (Adivasi – indigenous and Dalit) people in the country and quite possibly in the World happen to live. The poor are dying of hunger not because India cannot feeed everyone, as the United Nations report on regional cooperation makes crystal clear, “the root cause of hunger across the sub-region and the world today is not a lack of food. It is the economic and social distribution of that food which leaves populations undernourished and hungry.”
Men women and children living in dire poverty starve to death, in India, Ethiopia and throughout the world. They starve and die for want of the food that is rotting in warehouses, food served up to rats or destroyed by the Indian government, because it is cheaper to burn it than to distribute it to those in need. As Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (26/01/13) said, “globally, a third of all food produced is wasted, and… if one could avoid this waste it would be possible to feed all the hungry people [in the world] and have food to spare.” Food to spare!Such is the inhumane ethos that underpins market fundamentalism, that allows men women and children, young and old to starve – simply because the do not have the financial means to feed themselves. Shame on governments Indian and the rest, that allow such inhumane injustice to prevail, as a wise teacher said, “throughout the world there are men, women and little children who have not even the essentials to stay alive; they crowd the cities of many of the poorest countries in the world… My brothers, how can you watch these people die before your eyes and call yourselves men”.
The commercialization of the countryside in India and Ethiopia, which is displacing large numbers of small-scale farmers and concentrating crop production in the hands of multi-nationals, is intensifying existing levels of hunger. Substantive agricultural reform and real development would see the army of skilled small scale producers, with generations of local knowledge and love of the land, supported with the needed capital and technology, given access to markets that corporations bring. Such an agrarian revolution, ethically founded, environmentally healthy and socially sustained, would build long-term food security and feed the hungry.
Soft targets easy profits
India as the WFP makes clear, has no domestic need for food produced by the overseas industrial farms that are causing such far-reaching damage, to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people of Ethiopia as well as the natural environment. The movement in Ethiopia mirrors what is taking place to a much greater degree in India. The government has shifted all support away from Indian farmers and is supporting the transfer of land from the rural poor to large companies – wealthy government benefactors, causing the displacement of millions (60 million to date, according to Arundhati Roy) of indigenous people.
Corporations are targeting countries with “poor governance”, Oxfam 7/02/2013 makes clear, that “allow investors to secure land quickly and cheaply…. [They] “Seem to be cherry picking countries with weak rules and regulations”. Needy nations like hungry people make easy targets for multi-national men, whose pockets governments are desperate to nestle inside. The driving force behind such destructive land developments, undertaken by corporations obsessed by an insatiable desire for growth and world leading economic development, is, as Oxfam suggests, profit and profit alone.
Leaving the scandal of horsemeat contamination of processed meat products behind, the British prime minister David Cameron flew to India for a three-day visit (February 18-20), boasting the largest-ever trade delegation he had led to a foreign country. The aim of young Cameron was to clinch multi-million pound deals with the world’s second most populous nation, and a vibrant and rising economy. The reasons behind his mission to India were domestic as well as foreign.
Cameron leads a wobbly government in coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party, which has all but abandoned many of its policies on civil liberties, minority rights, the nature of Britain’s relationship with the European Union and the welfare state. In essence, the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Nick Clegg has the title of deputy prime minister with no portfolio, have become the enablers keeping in power a Conservative Party that is itself fatally divided over how far right to move on some of the most fundamental issues.
Britain’s Conservative prime minister, his finance minister George Osborne, and a group of ministers to the right, are enforcing draconian cuts that, many experts complain, are making economic recovery more difficult. The Liberal Democrats have become supporters of war. A former Liberal Democrat leader, now a party grandee, Lord Paddy Ashdown, recently defended President Obama’s drone wars that, according to several authoritative studies including one by Stanford and New York Universities, have killed thousands of innocent people. In an astonishing defense of Obama’s “kill list,” Lord Ashdown asserted that the president’s policy had more accountability than ever before. A U.S. president secretly ordering to kill specific individuals, and others who happen to be in the targeted area, without Congressional or judicial scrutiny, is somehow “more accountable than ever”? One does not know what to say––except that power has clearly elevated Lord Ashdown and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to a different planet.
Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Cameron went to India to seduce politicians in government and big business with a basket of offers. He reminded his hosts of India’s colonial links with Britain, and sought to press the Indian government to buy Eurofighters, in which Britain has a stake, instead of French multi-role combat planes already being negotiated. Cameron had been promising his party MPs that he would be pushing the deal aggressively, failing to realize that the Indians do not like being told by the British, especially by a Conservative prime minister. In such an event, the Indian response would likely be to buy from any one except India’s former colonial rulers.
Cameron leads a party which continues to live in the Churchillian past. He simply misread India’s historical development, and was badly advised as he embarked on his visit. Cameron failed to accept the reality that India, a country twenty times larger in population than the United Kingdom, was not a client state that could be pressured. The Indians would be courteous in welcoming him, but were quite capable of turning the tables, and would rebuff unwanted offers. The signs were there some while ago when India told Britain that it did not want a few hundred million pounds worth of British aid, describing it as “peanuts.” The British government’s increasingly hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies to placate the political right at home were alienating many Indian residents and new students coming to Britain. The consequences of this went largely unnoticed in Cameron’s circle.
There is an unmistakable propensity in today’s Britain to blame “immigrants” and “asylum-seekers” for all the ills––from filth to chaos and crime in the streets, as well as unemployment among white Britons. Alienation and frustration of those less fortunate are alarming, but their causes are easier to explain. However, the eagerness of the political class to join in the chorus of xenophobic hysteria, and to craft legislation to placate the Right are much harder to understand because of the risks this entails. News reaches distant places with lightning speed in a globalized world. Indian students, increasingly better informed and direct, told the BBC, as Cameron sought to woo them, that they thought the British attitudes were a “little racist.” They would rather seek other destinations for education, or stay in their own country.
As he visited the historic Golden Temple of Amritsar and the nearby site of the 1919 Jallianwala massacre of hundreds of men, women and children, committed on the orders of General Reginald Dyer, Prime Minister Cameron described the episode as a “deeply shameful event.” But he stopped short of issuing an outright apology. That was not enough for historians and ordinary citizens alike in India. Among other questions raised was whether the British government would please return the Koh-i-noor to India. The world’s most precious diamond had been taken to Britain following the imperial power’s annexation of the Punjab into the Empire in 1849. For ten years prior to that, the British administrators had failed to execute the last will of the Punjab ruler Ranjit Singh, who had the diamond until his death. Cameron could not have agreed, so he said that he did not believe in “returnism.”
By the time the British prime minister met his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in Delhi, the deal to sell AgustaWestland helicopters to India seemed to have been scuppered. It was suggested to Cameron that Britain cooperate with the Indian authorities in providing more information about allegations that the Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer based in the United Kingdom had attempted to bribe influential figures to secure the deal with India. The British prime minister promised to do so, and returned home, leaving a “wish list” behind.