The idea sounds great—provide Internet access for the millions of people in developing areas that don’t have it. But in the process of putting that knowledge at the fingertips of that under-served community, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org has drawn a bright line between the haves and have-nots.
Zuckerberg’s plan, developed with manufacturers such as Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung, allows free access via mobile phones in developing areas only to certain parts of the Internet. Surprise—Facebook is one of the applications able to be reached by way of the Internet.org app. Wikipedia is also available as are weather and a few other sites. But if you want to go to a site not on the app, you must either pay a fee or you’re out of luck.
Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, have applauded the Internet.org strategy, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But others, including Carolina Botero, executive director of the Karisma Foundation in Bogotá, have reservations. Karisma supports the positive use of technology as it pertains to human rights. Botero said: “We have serious concerns that Internet.org is presented as a public policy strategy for universal access to the Internet. This initiative compromises everyone’s rights and blurs the government’s obligation to reduce the digital divide for its citizens for compromised access to certain applications. No matter how interesting they are, these services are associated with a commercial interest of a multinational which the state is directly supporting.”
Zuckerberg claims that because Internet.org doesn’t specifically block sites or charge sites more to run faster, the app conforms with net neutrality principles. But more businesses are starting to see it the other way and are opting out of the program, among them a group of Indian publishers.
“We support net neutrality because it creates a fair, level playing field for all companies—big and small—to produce the best service and offer it to consumers,” The Times Group, one of the publishers that withdrew from Internet.org, said in a statement. Other Indian companies to opt out of Internet.org are travel website Cleartrip and information site Newshunt. “What started off with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” Cleartrip said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The problem runs deeper than simply which sites to which poor users should have subsidized access,” wrote EFF’s David Boagado and Katitza Rodriguez. “It lies in the very concept that Facebook and its corporate partners, or governments, should be able to privilege one service or site above another. Despite the good intentions of Facebook and the handful of allied companies, Internet.org effectively leaves its users without a real Internet in the [Latin American] region.”
The result is “having access to only a sliver of what is supposed to be the worldwide web,” wrote Issie Lapowsky at Wired. “As we’ve said before, this creates ‘an Internet for poor people.’”
Zuckerberg’s response, basically, is that half a loaf is better than none. “Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity,” he wrote April 17 in a Facebook post. “Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.”
To Learn More:
Does Internet.org Leave Latin Americans Without A Real Internet? (by David Bogado and Katitza Rodriguez, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Mark Zuckerberg Can’t Have It Both Ways on Net Neutrality (by Issie Lapowsky, Wired )
Indian Companies Pull Out of Internet.org amid Battle over Net Neutrality (by Aditi Malhotra, Wall Street Journal )
Supreme Court Upholds Cyber Freedom in India (by Karan Singh, AllGov India )
Large crowds of demonstrators have held a massive protest rally in the Indian-administered Kashmir in response to a New Delhi plan to build new townships across the disputed region.
Kashmiri protesters rallied in Srinagar after Friday prayers to voice opposition to a government plan to build new townships for thousands of Hindus in the Muslim-majority region.
The angry protesters chanted pro-independence slogans as they marched toward the city center, Lalchowk, in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Srinagar, which lies in the Kashmir Valley, is the summer capital and largest city of the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its winter capital is Jammu.
Indian police and paramilitary troops fired teargas and used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The security forces also arrested nearly a dozen activists, including some prominent regional protest leaders.
The protesters pelted Indian security forces with stones and blocked roads in the region.
The massive rally comes as New Delhi has announced plans to build a number of townships to accommodate some 200,000 Hindus.
Kashmiri leaders have called the plan a conspiracy to create settlements on religious lines, saying the plan will create hatred between Hindus and Muslims.
Mohammed Yasin Malik, the chairman of the pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) compared the plan to that of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Malik suggested that they would rather live side by side the Hindus in a merged society.
“We will not allow anybody to turn Kashmir into another Palestine. They (Pandits) are owners of this land as we are, and we welcome them to live in a composite society along with their Muslim brothers,” a media outlet quoted Malik as saying.
Indian authorities have deployed large contingents of police and paramilitary troops to most parts of Srinagar and several other major towns to prevent street demonstrations.
Kashmir lies at the heart of more than 67 years of hostility between India and Pakistan. Both neighbors claim the region in full but have partial control over it.
The neighbors agreed on a ceasefire in 2003, and launched a peace process the following year. Since then, there have been sporadic clashes, with both sides accusing the other of violating the ceasefire.
Thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir unrest over the past two decades.
China will reportedly finance the so-called ‘Peace Pipeline’ natural gas pipeline from Iran, home to the world’s second largest reserves, to energy-deprived Pakistan. The project was delayed due to US dissent.
The final deal is to be signed during the long-sought visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad in April, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“We’re building it. The process has started,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the WSJ.
First proposed over 20 years ago, the 1045 mile (1682km) pipeline will transfer gas from Iran’s south to the Pakistani cities of Gwadar and Nawabshah. Karachi, the country’s biggest city of 27.3 million, will also be connected via local energy distribution systems already in place.
Iran has said the 560-mile portion that runs to the Pakistan border is already complete, which only leaves $2 billion needed to build the Pakistani stretch.
The project could cost up to $2 billion if a Liquefied Natural Gas port is constructed at Gwadar. Otherwise, the project to complete the Pakistani pipeline will cost between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, the WSJ said. Pakistan is in negotiations with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, a subsidiary of Chinese energy major China National Petroleum Corporation, to finance 85 percent of the project. Pakistan will pay the rest.
The original plan envisioned the pipeline continuing to India, but Delhi dropped out due to US pressure in 2009, Tehran claims. Pakistan, a country of 199 million people faces intermittent blackouts in major cities, and Iran is looking for a place to export its soon-to-not-be-banned gas.
Iran has 33.7 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the June 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP estimates, it has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves at 157 billion barrels.
US-led sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program have stunted Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran’s oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to about one million barrels in 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In March, Iran produced 2.85 million barrels of oil per day, according to data from Bloomberg.
Prior to last year’s national elections in India, there were calls for a Thatcherite revolution to fast-track the country towards privatisation and neo-liberalism. Under successive Thatcher-led governments in the eighties, however, inequalities skyrocketed in Britain and economic growth was no better than in the seventies.
Traditional manufacturing was decimated and international finance became the bedrock of the ‘new’ economy. Jobs disappeared over the horizon to cheap labour economies, corporations bought up public utilities, the rich got richer and many of Britain’s towns and cities in its former industrial heartland became shadows of their former selves. Low paid, insecure, non-unionised labour is now the norm and unemployment and underemployment are rife. Destroying ordinary people’s livelihoods was done in the name of ‘the national interest’. Destroying industry was done in the name of ‘efficiency’.
In 2010, 28 percent of the UK workforce, some 10.6 million people, either did not have a job, or had stopped looking for one. And that figure was calculated before many public sector jobs were slashed under the lie of ‘austerity’.
Today, much of the mainstream political and media rhetoric revolves around the need to create jobs, facilitate ‘free’ trade, ensure growth and make ‘the nation’ competitive. The endless, tedious mantra says ordinary people have to be ‘flexible’, ‘tighten their belts, expect to do a ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ and let the market decide. This creates jobs. This fuels ‘growth’. Unfortunately, it does neither. What we have is austerity. What we have is an on-going economic crisis, a huge national debt, rule by profligate bankers and corporate entities and mass surveillance to keep ordinary people in check.
So what might the future hold? Unfortunately, more of the same.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the EU and US is intended to be the biggest trade deal in history. The EU and US together account for 40 percent of global economic output. The European Commission tries to sell the deal to the public by claiming that the agreement will increase GDP by one percent and will entail massive job creation.
However, these claims are not supported even by its own studies, which predict a growth rate of just 0.01 percent GDP over the next ten years and the potential loss of jobs in several sectors, including agriculture. Corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards and undermine digital rights. Negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and are being driven by corporate interests. And the outcome could entail the bypassing of any democratic processes in order to push through corporate-friendly policies. The proposed agreement represents little more than a corporate power grab.
It should come as little surprise that this is the case. Based on a recent report, the European Commission’s trade and investment policy reveals a bunch of unelected technocrats who care little about what ordinary people want and negotiate on behalf of big business. The Commission has eagerly pursued a corporate agenda and has pushed for policies in sync with the interests of big business. It is effectively a captive but willing servant of a corporate agenda. Big business has been able to translate its massive wealth into political influence to render the European Commission a “disgrace to the democratic traditions of Europe.”
This proposed trade agreement (and others like it being negotiated across the world) is based on a firm belief in ‘the market’ (a euphemism for subsidies for the rich, cronyism, rigged markets and cartels) and the intense dislike of state intervention and state provision of goods and services. The ‘free market’ doctrine that underpins this belief attempts to convince people that nations can prosper by having austerity imposed on them and by embracing neo-liberalism and ‘free’ trade. This is a smokescreen that the financial-corporate elites hide behind while continuing to enrich themselves and secure taxpayer handouts, whether in the form of bank bailouts or other huge amounts of corporate dole.
In much of the West, the actual reality of neo-liberalism and the market is stagnating or declining wages in real terms, high levels of personal debt and a permanent underclass, while the rich and their corporations to rake in record profits and salt away wealth in tax havens.
Corporate plunder in India
Thatcher was a handmaiden of the rich. Her role was to destroy ‘subversive’ or socialist tendencies within Britain and to shatter the post-1945 Keynesian consensus based on full employment, fairness and a robust welfare state. She tilted the balance of power in favour of elite interests by embarking on a pro-privatisation, anti-trade union/anti-welfare state policy agenda. Sections of the public regarded Thatcher as a strong leader who would get things done, where others before her had been too weak and dithered. In India, Narendra Modi has been portrayed in a similar light.
His government is attempting to move ahead with ‘reforms’ that others dragged their feet on. To date, India has experienced a brand of ‘neo-liberalism lite’. Yet what we have seen thus far has been state-backed violence and human rights abuses to ‘secure’ tribal areas for rich foreign and Indian corporations, increasing inequalities, more illicit money than ever pouring into Swiss bank accounts and massive corruption and cronyism.
Under Modi are we to witness an accelerated ‘restructuring’ of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness? Will more farmers be forced from their land on behalf of commercial interests? Officialdom wants to depopulate rural areas by shifting over 600 million to cities. It begs the question: in an age of increasing automation, how will hundreds of millions of agriculture sector workers earn their livelihoods once they have left the land?
What type of already filthy and overburdened urban centres can play host to such a gigantic mass of humanity who were deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ in rural India and will possibly be (indeed, already are) deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ once in the cities?
Gandhi stated that the future of India lies in its villages. Rural society was regarded as India’s bedrock. But now that bedrock is being dug up. Global agritech companies have been granted license to influence key aspects of agriculture by controlling seeds and chemical inputs and by funding and thus distorting the biotech research agenda and aspects of overall development policy.
Part of that ‘development’ agenda is based on dismantling the Public Distribution System for food. Policy analyst Devinder Sharma notes that the government may eventually stop supporting farmers by doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price for farmers and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. He argues that farmers would be encouraged to grow cash crops for supermarkets and to ‘compete’ in a market based on trade policies that work in favour of big landowners and heavily subsidised Western agriculture.
By shifting towards a commercialised system that would also give the poor cash to buy food in the market place, rather than the almost half a million ‘ration shops’ that currently exist, the result will be what the WTO/ World Bank/IMF have been telling India to for a long time: to displace the farming population so that agribusiness can find a stronghold in India.
We need only look at what happened to the soy industry in India during the nineties, or last year’s report by GRAIN, to see how small farmers are forced from their land to benefit powerful global agritech. If it cannot be achieved by unfair trade policies and other duplicitous practices, it is achieved by repression and violence, as Helena Paul notes:
“Repression and displacement, often violent, of remaining rural populations, illness, falling local food production have all featured in this picture. Indigenous communities have been displaced and reduced to living on the capital’s rubbish dumps. This is a crime that we can rightly call genocide – the extinguishment of entire Peoples, their culture, their way of life and their environment.”
Although Helena Paul is referring to the situation in Paraguay, what she describes could well apply to India or elsewhere.
In addition, the secretive corporate-driven trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and India could fundamentally restructure Indian society in favour of Western corporate interests and adversely impact hundreds of millions and their livelihoods and traditional ways of living. And as with the proposed US-EU agreement, powerful transnational corporations would be able to by-pass national legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Governments could be sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of national courts if laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments.
A massive shift in global power and wealth from poor to rich
Current negotiations over ‘free’ trade agreements have little to do with free trade. They are more concerned with loosening regulatory barriers and bypassing any democratic processes to allow large corporations to destroy competition and siphon off wealth to the detriment of smaller, locally based firms and producers.
The planet’s super rich comprise a global elite. It is not a unified elite. But whether based in China, Russia or India, its members have to varying extents been incorporated into the Anglo-American system of trade and finance. For them, the ability to ‘do business’ is what matters, not national identity or the ability to empathise with someone toiling in a field who happened to be born on the same land mass. And in order ‘to do business’, government machinery has been corrupted and bent to serve their ends. In turn, organisations that were intended to be ‘by’ and ‘for’ ordinary working people have been successfully infiltrated and dealt with.
The increasing global takeover of agriculture by powerful agribusiness, the selling off of industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets and secretive corporate-driven trade agreements represent a massive corporate heist of wealth and power across the world. The world’s super rich regard ‘nations’ as population holding centres to be exploited whereby people are stripped of control of their livelihoods for personal gain. Whether it concerns rich oligarchs in the US or India’s billionaire business men, corporate profits and personal gain trump any notion of the ‘national interest’.
Still want a Thatcherite revolution?
Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.
The global arms trade business continues to thrive, with the United States being the biggest beneficiary of an ever-growing market that’s being fueled by Middle East purchases.
IHS Inc., an international information and analytics firm based in Colorado, reported in its Global Defense Trade Report that worldwide arms sales increased last year for the sixth straight year. The total in military trade went from $56.8 billion in 2013 to $64.4 billion in 2014—a 13.4% increase.
The U.S. was responsible for one-third of all defense exports and “was the main beneficiary of growth,” IHS reported. American exports of weapons were particularly popular among buyers in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia surpassed India to become the largest defense market for U.S. weapons makers, as the oil sheikdom increased its defense imports 54% from 2013 to 2014. This year is expected to be another strong year for Saudi imports, IHS says, rising another 52% to $9.8 billion.
“One out of every seven dollars spent on defense imports in 2015 will be spent by Saudi Arabia,” according to IHS.
Ben Moores, senior defense analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defense & Security, said: “The Middle East is the biggest regional market, and there are $110 billion in opportunities in coming decade.”
To Learn More:
Charted: The World’s Biggest Arms Importers (by Alan Tovey, The Telegraph )
The SIPRI Top 100 Arms-Producing and Military Services Companies, 2013 (by Aude Fleurant and Sam Perlo-freeman, SIPRI) (pdf)
Obama Steps Up Foreign Weapons Sales, Overwhelming Other Arms Makers (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov )
It was another difficult week for Israel.
In Britain, 700 artists, including many household names, pledged a cultural boycott of Israel, and a leader of the Board of Deputies, the representative body of UK Jews, quit, saying he could no longer abide by its ban on criticising Israel.
Across the Atlantic, the student body of one of the most prestigious US universities, Stanford, voted to withdraw investments from companies implicated in Israel’s occupation, giving a significant boost to the growing international boycott (BDS) movement.
Meanwhile, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters of those under 50, believed the US foreign policy should be neutral between Israel and Palestine.
This drip-drip of bad news, as American and European popular opinion shifts against Israel, is gradually changing the west’s political culture and forcing Israel to rethink its historic alliances.
The deterioration in relations between Israel and the White House is now impossible to dismiss, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama lock horns, this time over negotiations with Iran.
The US was reported last week to be refusing to share with Israel sensitive information on the talks, fearful it will be misused. A senior Israeli official described it as like being evicted from the “deluxe guest suite” in Washington. “Astonishing doesn’t begin to describe it,” he said.
The fall-out is spreading to the US Congress, where for the first time Israel is becoming a partisan issue. A growing number of Democrats have declared they will boycott Netanyahu’s address to the Congress next month, when he is expected to try to undermine the Iran talks.
Things are more precarious still in Europe. Several leading parliaments have called on their governments to recognise Palestinian statehood, and France rocked Israel by backing just such a resolution recently in the UN Security Council.
Europe has also begun punishing Israel for its intransigence towards the Palestinians. It is labelling settlement products and is expected to start demanding compensation for its projects in the occupied territories the Israeli army destroys.
This month 63 members of the European Parliament went further, urging the European Union to suspend its “association agreement”, which allows Israel unrestricted trade and access to special funding.
None of this has gone unnoticed in Israel. A classified report by the foreign ministry leaked last month paints a dark future. It concludes that western support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions will grow, and the US might even refuse to “protect Israel with its veto” at the UN.
Israel is particularly concerned about the economic impact, given that Europe is its largest trading partner. Serious sanctions could ravage the economy.
One might assume that, faced with these drastic calculations, Israel would reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood. Not a bit of it.
Netanyahu’s officials blame the crisis with Washington on Obama, implying that they will wait out his presidency for better times to return.
As for Europe, Netanyahu blames the shift there on what he calls “Islamisation”, suggesting that Europe’s growing Muslim population is holding the region’s politicians to ransom. On this view, the price paid for the recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen is Europe’s support for Israel.
Instead, Netanyahu has begun looking elsewhere for economic – and ultimately political – patrons.
In doing so, he is returning to an early Israeli tradition. The state’s founders were inspired by the collectivist ideals of the Soviet Union, not US individualism. And in return for attacking Egypt in 1956, Israel was secretly helped by Britain and France to build nuclear weapons over stiff US opposition.
In response to recent developments, Netanyahu announced last month that he was courting trade with China, India and Japan – comprising nearly 40 per cent of the planet’s population.
Last year, for the first time, Israel did more trade with these Asian giants than with the US. Much of it focused on the burgeoning arms market, with Israel supplying nearly $4 billion worth of weapons in 2013. A region once implacably hostile to Israel is throwing open its doors.
India, plagued by border tensions with Pakistan and China, is now Israel’s largest arms purchaser – and such trade is expected to expand further following the election last year of Narendra Modi, known for his anti-Muslim views.
He has lifted the veil off India’s growing defence cooperation with Israel, one reason why Moshe Yaalon last week became the first Israeli defence minister to make an official visit.
Ties between Israel and China are deepening rapidly too. Beijing has become Israel’s third largest trading partner, while Israel is China’s second biggest supplier of military technology after Russia.
Last month the two signed a three-year cooperation plan, with China keen to exploit – in addition to Israel’s military hardware – its innovations on solar energy, irrigation and desalination.
Emmanuel Navon, an international relations expert at Tel Aviv University, claims that, despite its poor public image, Israel now enjoys a “global clout” unprecedented in its history.
Israel’s immediate goal is to future-proof itself economically against mounting popular pressure in Europe and the US to act in favour of the Palestinian cause.
But, longer term, Israel hopes to convert Chinese and Indian dependency on Israeli armaments – based on technology it tests and refines on a captive Palestinian population – into diplomatic cover. One day Israel may be relying on a Chinese veto at the UN, not a US one.
India reportedly plans to finalize a major arms deal with the Israeli regime worth nearly USD1.5 billion that includes Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and four aerostat radars.
The military deal will likely be sealed during a visit to India by Israeli minister for military affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, who is due in the city of Bangalore on Wednesday for the Aero India show, which will continue through February 22.
The Israeli official, who is due to hold talks with India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, will be accompanied by major Israeli military contractors.
The bi-annual Aero India exhibit is India’s biggest showcase of military equipment.
“We are flexible when it comes to transfer of technology,” said the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, Ohad Horsandi, who added, “A while back, Israel and India had shifted away from buyer-seller relations toward a stronger and more equal partnership that can include joint production and co-development.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reportedly seeking to enhance its military and security ties with the Washington and Tel Aviv in a bid to overhaul a largely Soviet-era arsenal and turn India into a global manufacturing hub.
India plans a USD 150-billion military spending spree through 2027. Pending purchases include 126 Rafale fighter jets from the France-based Dassault company and 145 howitzer guns from the UK-based firm, BAE Systems Plc.
During a visit to India last month, US President Barack Obama agreed to a pilot project in which India will jointly manufacture parts for drones and transport jets. The two countries will also set up a working group to share aircraft carrier technology and develop jet engines.
India last year decided to buy Israeli anti-tank guided missiles and launchers and revive the joint development of a long-range missile. The USD 659 million of Israeli arms purchases since Modi took power is more than Israeli regime’s total military exports to India in the prior three years.
Welcome to Kashmir, the land known for its flowers, mountains and pristine lakes!
Welcome to the land of watchtowers and barbed wire, of military convoys, of torture and rape! Welcome to the place where India, the U.S. and Israel are continuously conducting their joint military exercises, while plotting in unison, the best strategy of how to oppress and “pacify” the local population.
Welcome to the land of 7,000 mass graves!
Welcome to a land of torture and extra-judicial executions, where at least 80,000 people have already died, most of them in just the last two decades.
Welcome to that exhausted land, where at least 8,000 people have been “disappeared” without a trace, where the entire female population of some border villages have been raped, where torture perpetrated by Indian security forces has reached an unimaginable level of brutality.
Maybe you have never heard about the crimes against humanity committed by the Indian forces in Kashmir or in the Northeast, and it is not surprising if you haven’t. Because India is like Indonesia, like Rwanda, Uganda or Ukraine — it is now a staunch ally of the West; virtually its client state. As a reward to the Indian rulers and elites, there is almost no criticism coming from the Western mainstream media. And all the Indian mass media now belongs to the right-wing business conglomerates, so there is no criticism coming from there, either!
What takes place in Kashmir is called genocide — by some, by many. But their voices are barely audible. Their voices are muffled, even silenced, by the Western and Indian regimes.
“By inviting President Obama to New Delhi, India betrayed BRICS, politically, economically and militarily,” explained Mr. Binu Matthew, editor of an influential alternative Indian web-based magazine Countercurrents, which operates from the southern state of Kerala (www.countercurrents.org).
For years, I actually tried to define India’s position in BRICS. My conclusion is increasingly straightforward: it does not belong there at all! Its social, economic, political and military stands are anti-BRICS, pro-business and pro-Western.
While Obama was visiting India in January 2015, I was actually working in Kashmir. In fact, exactly at the time when his Air Force One was touching down near New Delhi, I was supposed to be transiting at Indira Gandhi International Airport, en route from Kerala to Srinagar, Kashmir.
The madness of the Indian security apparatus in action has turned into something indescribable! Two maniacal countries — India and the United States, have joined their hands, as well as their paranoia.
My Air India flight had to circle in the air for an extra hour, before being allowed to land. And several days later, long after Obama departed, when I checked into the same hotel where the U.S. President had been staying (ITC Maurya), the place was still overflowing with those brave and beefed-up U.S. security apparatchiks and their confused Indian lackeys.
I was told that at its peak, there were approximately 1,600 members of the U.S. security, operating in the India’s capital. They brought everything with them, from surveillance equipment, to oxygen bombs, in order to “fight” the legendary New Delhi pollution and supply their Commander-in-Chief with clean, breathable air.
The Metro system was shut down, and snipers, both from local and foreign security forces occupied most of the high-rise buildings in the center.
In India, even without Obama’s visit, surveillance and “security” has become a national obsession. Outrageous “security” measures here are always justified by “terrorism” and by all other “threats” (most of them fabricated). The main reason why they exist is very simple: they serve the elites who are protecting themselves against the great majority of their own miserably poor, cheated and underprivileged citizens.
Obama got from his Indian sojourn exactly what he hoped for: both countries (or more precisely, their elites) are now moving closer and closer towards each other, both militarily (India is readily offering itself to the U.S. geo-political interests, particularly to the most important one, which is to ostracize, demonize and provoke China) and economically by maintaining a despotic market fundamentalist system, which is for the exclusive benefit of the upper classes, corporations and moneyed mobsters.
The mechanism is simple: India, which is actually a police state, oppresses the majority of its citizens on behalf of the Empire and its business interests. And in exchange it gets promoted as “the largest democracy on Earth.”
Its big boys are now finally getting what they have dreamt about ever since the collapse of the British Empire: acceptance to the exclusive Western imperialist club. When they were in charge there, the Brits put up warnings all over Sub-Continent: “No Indians and Dogs!” Such sleights are now conveniently forgotten. Everything Western is glorified.
“Let’s walk together!” declared Obama during his visit. He forgot to mention, where?
Now imagine what a police state based on thoroughly cynical principles and deceptions is capable of doing to an occupied territory, like Kashmir!
Parvez Imroz, the Director of “Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,” explained to me during our meetings on the outskirts of Srinagar, in Kashmir:
“India, being a growing regional power, with an increasingly free market open to the United States and other such states, has been emboldened by foreign powers.
The army since 1989 has resorted to war crimes as they have been given legal impunity, and seldom have any armed personnel been punished for crimes against humanity. The militarization in Jammu and Kashmir has affected all aspects of life and unfortunately the Indian media and civil society, with some exceptions, have also been extending the moral and political impunity to the army who they believe are fighting trans-border terrorism. The systematic disappearances, mass graves, and torture have been completely ignored by the Indian and international media.”
In New Delhi, I discussed the joint exercises of Indian, US and Israeli military forces, with a renowned independent documentary film-maker, Sanjay Kak. He concluded:
“When it comes to brutality, Indian forces could actually teach both Israel and United States quite a few things.”
It is easy to confirm it.
For several days, I worked in Kashmir, with two members of “Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,” but also with reporters employed by large Western press agencies, as well as with prominent lawyers from New Delhi. The journalists and attorneys asked not to be identified in this report, for reasons of safety and fear of losing their jobs. But they readily shared their knowledge and contacts.
I visited the border region with Pakistan, near the city of Kupwara. I also worked in the city of Sopore, known for its resistance against what the majority of local people calls, “the occupation of Kasmire.” I worked in Srinagar and its vicinity, and in several other places. It is obvious that Kashmir is brutalized, and the loss of lives here is so high that it could easily qualify as genocide.
The torture of civilians accused of supporting the “Mujahedin,” is comparable only with other examples of the most outrageous atrocities, committed in the 20th century. There seems to be no justice for the victims.
I spoke to local people from the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, where more than 2 decades ago, the Indian military arrested all men, took them to a frozen creek and tortured them, then raped all the women in their houses, killing five, including a four-day old baby. This case is well documented, and the victims pressed charges, but no one had been punished as of yet.
I spoke to a man in Sopore, Hassan Bhat, who lost both of his sons. They were murdered at the age of 15. One was shot by a cop while he was buying a carton of milk at local grocery store, and the other, shot with a teargas canister when he was trying to hide in the river, scared of a confrontation between local youth and armed forces. No justice; no one had been punished, although Mr. Bhat knows the names of the officers who were in charge.
I was shown several photos, and the case of a man who was detained after being accused of sympathizing with the “Mujahedeen,” was explained to me. When he was not “too cooperative,” both his feet were cut off. He survived. Later, pieces of flesh were cut off from various parts of his body, cooked, and force-fed to him. He survived again. For years he has been pressing charges, but no one has been punished.
The methods of torture used in Kashmir includes driving nails into victim’s feet, amputations, electric shocks, burning of genitals and other parts of the body, and the removal of nails. Rape is a common form of torture.
All this is documented. Nothing is done.
Even in India itself, I spoke to several people who are aware of the situation.
Just today, in Darjeeling, West Bengal, my colleague explained:
“My friend’s brother confessed that when he recently served in Kashmir, he was in a special Gorkha unit, well known and hated for its brutality. A Mujahedeen fighter, in one of deep villages, killed one of their men. The soldiers did not inform their commander: they just went on the rampage, ‘killing literally everything that moved, from women and children, to dogs, cats and chickens’. None of them were punished. They were discharged without honors. No one was punished.”
Mr. Parvez Imroz concluded:
“In order to suppress the struggle for freedom in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government has resorted to systematic and institutional repression. More than 700,000-strong, armed force has been pressed into service to neutralize the armed struggle and to control the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are seeking the right of self-determination which the government of India had promised before the United Nations in the 1948 and 1949 resolutions. The repression of the Indian state has been part of their policy. In this lie, even the judiciary is culpable, they as a wing of the State, have served the interests of the executive and not the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The international institutions, particularly western civil society and governments after 9/11 and because of Islamophobia and other interests, are completely ignoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Arundhati Roy, a famous Indian writer and activist, came to a similar conclusion two years earlier when she spoke on “Democracy Now”:
“Today Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world. India has something like 700,000 security forces there. And in the ’90s, early ’90s, the fight became — turned into an armed struggle, and since then, More than 70,000 people have died, maybe 100,000 tortured, more than 8,000 disappeared. I mean, we all talk a lot about Chile, Pinochet, but these numbers are far greater.”
Locals often compare Kashmir to Palestine, to the Intifada there, but they never fail to point out that their land is suffering a much worse fate, as many more people have died here, and under much more horrible circumstance. Kashmir is far from the cameras, and far from international scrutiny.
I met stone-throwing youth in Kashmir. I stood between them and the security forces. I managed to photograph the encounter. The intensity here was the same as I had witnessed in Palestine. But in Srinagar, I was alone. I was told: “Foreigners do not dare to come. The Indian media does not care and if it did come, perhaps it would have to face the wrath of the locals. And the local media is scared: whenever they come, they get beaten up by the security forces.”
Not long ago, a Mexican journalist dared, and was badly beaten by Indian police. When his case became known, the police apologized: “Sorry, he looked like a local. We thought he was a Kashmiri.”
People, who dare to speak and write about the plight of Kashmir, are intimidated, deported, and even physically attacked. Some of the critics are ordinary individuals, while others are well-known figures:
Arundhati Roy is periodically threatened with sedition charges, lawsuits and life imprisonment.
Others, like the legendary radio host David Barsamian, got deported from India, no explanation was given.
In October 2011, a senior Supreme Court lawyer Mr. Prashant Bhushan (who drafted the “Lokpal Bill”) was brutally beaten in his chambers at the Supreme Court after he made comments on the human rights situation in Kashmir.
In Sopore, several people formed a circle around me, after dark, in front of a house that recently saw fighting between pro-independence fighters and the security forces.
“What would save Kashmir?” I asked.
A heroic but desperate battle, of 200 to 300 pro-independence fighters struggling against 700,000 members of the security forces, was not looking too promising.
“Only pressure from the international community can help,” I was told.
“BRICS,” I thought. The West was too busy admiring Indian oligarchs, the military top brass, and politicians who had recently just been considered to be responsible for some heinous crimes against humanity, including those committed in 2002 in the state of Gujarat!
Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man Party), has taken the oath as the chief minister of India’s capital city of New Delhi.
The swearing-in ceremony took place at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on Saturday in front of thousands of supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party, which won 67 out of the 70 seats in the February 7 elections of the city’s state assembly.
During the open-air ceremony, Manish Sisodia, Kejriwal’s associate, was also sworn in as deputy chief minister along with five other ministers.
In an address to the crowd, Kejriwal vowed to tackle graft in Delhi and end its “VIP culture”.
“I will make Delhi corruption-free within five years. If somebody asks for a bribe, don’t say no. Just take your mobile out of your pocket and record it on your phone. You then come and give it to me. We will take the toughest action against the offenders,” he said.
In 2013, the 46-year-old former civil servant was also sworn in as Delhi’s chief minister, but he resigned after 49 days in a row over an anti-corruption bill.
An estimated 67-percent turnout was recorded at Delhi’s 70-seat legislative assembly elections, which was widely considered as a test of the popularity of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came second in the polls with only three seats.
In May 2014, the BJP won 274 seats in the 543-seat lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. However, the ruling party lacks a majority in the Asian country’s upper house.
The Indian premier needs to win most of the state elections over the next four years in order to gain control of both houses of parliament, where he is attempting to push through reforms to revive the country’s economy.
AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal with supporters on February 10, 2015 [PTI]
Indian anti-graft party Aam Admi (Common Man) is set for a massive landslide victory in the Assembly elections of the national capital. Arvind Kejriwal, who was briefly chief minister of Delhi last year, is leading his Aam Admi party to a majority win as early leads show they are ahead in 63 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in Delhi would be the first major setback for the party since winning power. Latest results show Modi’s party is ahead in six seats.
“This may be a historic day! The juggernaut likely to halt. David likely to overcome Goliath,” tweeted AAP member and senior leader Yogendra Yadav on Tuesday morning.
The Congress party, which was in power in the Delhi for 15 years until 2013, is trailing at the third spot.
Millions of residents in India’s capital queued up on Saturday to cast their votes in the city polls that were expected to provide an indication of how Indians perceive the work of the new government and the “pro-reform” Indian Prime Minister Modi.
In recent weeks, an army of AAP volunteers has trudged through the alleys of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods to try to tap a deep vein of dissatisfaction that has gripped New Delhi residents, particularly over a soaring cost of living.
AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal is likely to be sworn in as Chief Minister of Delhi on 14 February.
“US, India Move Forward on Nuclear Energy Deal” read the headline at the top of USA Today’s front page (1/26/15). Moving forward–that sounds good, doesn’t it? The subhead was “Obama makes progress on the 1st day of his 3-day visit”–making progress also generally being seen as a good thing.
Online, the headline was “Obama, India’s Modi Cite Nuclear Investment Breakthrough” (1/25/15). And who doesn’t like a “breakthrough”?
The article itself had the same positive spin, beginning with its lead:
President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday they reached “a breakthrough understanding” in freeing up US investment in nuclear energy development in India, as Obama began a three-day visit to India.
Not only is it a “breakthrough understanding,” it’s also going to be “freeing up” investment. In these word choices, USA Today is saying it wants you to know that this is good news.
But what is the news? Here’s how the paper’s Mandakini Gahlot summarizes the agreement:
Picking up from a stalled 2008 civil nuclear agreement between the two countries, the deal would allow US firms to invest in energy in India. It also resolves a dispute over US insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to the country and over Indian liability provisions that have discouraged US firms from capitalizing on the agreement.
“Indian liability provisions”–what does that mean? The only further explanation USA Today gives is a paraphrase of the White House view that the agreement “resolves the US concerns on both tracking and liability.” In other words, it doesn’t explain much.
You get a much fuller picture from a story in the Mumbai-based newspaper Indian Express (1/26/15), which explains that the problem is with Indian law:
India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, has a simple purpose: to make sure that victims of a nuclear accident can get quick compensation, without having to prove the plant operator was negligent, and irrespective of who was at fault…. Section 17b of CLiNDA says the plant operators…can claim compensation from their equipment suppliers if the accident resulted as a result of “equipment or material with patent or latent defects.” And Section 46 makes both suppliers and operators liable to be sued by accident victims.
This is in conflict with the international rules that the US nuclear industry has arranged for itself when marketing its products abroad:
In the US, the law allows victims to file damages claims against operators, suppliers and designers. However, when US firms started selling abroad, they pushed for the concept of legal channeling, which left only operators liable.
These corporations–who have the political backing of the US government–have succeeded in getting international conventions to agree that “no one other than operators can be held responsible” in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. The suppliers want assurances that these international conventions, and not Indian law, will be applied in the wake of such an event.
The “breakthrough” between Obama and Modi seems to be an agreement that the law will be “tweaked” to let US corporations off the hook in case of a devastating accident. For example, suppliers of nuclear equipment could be redefined as “contractors” and therefore not be liable under Indian law.
Of course, if USA Today explained that Obama had gotten the Indian prime minister to find a loophole that would allow US corporations to avoid having to compensate victims of nuclear disasters that they contributed to, that would be harder to present as a “good news!” story.