Why China dreads Xinjiang and Tibet?

Nothing worries China more than the potential independence of two ‘rebel’ provinces it continues to occupy by force. China has tried to completely colonize the “autonomous” region it claims as Xijang but the world knows as Tibet, and another “autonomous” region it named as Xinjiang (“New Territory”) whose original name was Eastern Turkestan. Beijing had annexed Xinjiang in the 1750s and Tibet in the 1950s when the British emerged in and eclipsed from South Asia.

Ever since, China has been trying to change their DNAs—Buddhism and Islam—by adopting carrot and stick policies, homogenization, alleged genocide, etc. But it realizes that the two key provinces, bordering South Asia, are, at best, cultural anomalies for an atheist China. An uneasy, rented occupation, which could become the first to throw out the Chinese yoke the way the predominantly Muslim provinces broke away from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Xinjiang and Xijang are, therefore, China’s X factors. The unknowns. The variables. No other Chinese provinces are seen like time-bombs ticking in the Dragon’s belly.

That is why a worried China is now trying to woo the Tibetans and the Taliban.

In November 2020, the US Congress passed a bipartisan resolution by voice vote recognizing the autonomy of Tibetan culture and religion, and praised the Dalai Lama, proposing to hold a roundtable or a teleconference with him. It pressed for human rights in the Buddhist region.

Congressman Eliot Engel said the US State Department had found that the Chinese government had systematically impeded travel to Tibetan Autonomous Region areas for US diplomats, officials, journalists and tourists.

As expected, China condemned and rejected it. But the seed was sown.

Six months later, in July 2021, the US-led “War on Terror” virtually ended when the American soldiers secretly left Afghanistan in the dead of night without even informing President Ashraf Ghani they had been supporting so far. Not only this, the 36-nation forces also left behind a huge cache of arms and ammunition, apparently for the resurgent Taliban who, by August, are expected to regain control of the mountainous country.

China is aware that Afghanistan has been the “graveyard of superpowers” like the British, Russians and Americans. And, as they say in Afghanistan, the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! The Taliban, therefore, are sure to discover a new battleground—and Xinjiang eminently fits into their Islamist architecture.

China is trying to keep the Taliban in good humour. The Taliban are also playing the game they must until they get Kabul. They are aware how China has crushed the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) supporters, many of whom the terrorist militia has been training for launching attacks on Chinese interests in Xinjiang. And also that Beijing has been running a drive against both Islam and Christianity to erase their vestiges, including identity of mosques and churches. In other words, China is engaged in a vast programme of deIslamization.

This the Taliban are expected to pay back to China. And this is also seen as part of the agreement between the US and the Taliban.

A sudden Chinese interest in Tibet is also interesting. For the first time in three decades, a Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visited Lhasa, and even a Buddhist shrine, to mollify the six million angry Tibetans scattered across the world that Beijing looks for a harmonious relationship with this “autonomous” region.

Then came the real news: China has made it mandatory for every Tibetan family to send one member to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for what it believes would strengthen its military deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, especially in extreme weather areas like Ladakh in the west and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, media reported.

The Chinese army is recruiting Tibetan youths and training them for operations along the LAC with India. The recruits have been made to take a loyalty test, including learning the mainland Chinese language and accepting the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over any other belief. This, China hopes, would bind the Tibetan youths with their government.

This recruitment began early in 2021 after China learnt how the Tibetans-in-Exile brilliantly served the Indian Army. The Tibetans living in India have been part of an elite Special Frontier Force (SFF) formed after the 1962 war. Since then, this unit has been part of important operations during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the Kargil conflict in 1999 and also in the Sino-Indian conflict in Ladakh last year. These Tibetan youths

surprised the PLA on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake last year when they physically occupied the Mokhpari, Black Top and other heights in the view of Chinese aggression along the LAC.

They are China’s ‘T’ factors.

The Taliban’s return: New battlefronts for China, Pakistan!

In one fell swoop—suddenly withdrawing its army overnight from Afghanistan—America has completely changed geopolitical equations against China. The resurgent Taliban may become Beijing’s nemesis and Islamabad’s graveyard, the way mountainous Afghanistan had become the graveyard for the British, Soviet and American forces.

Utter confusion in the two ‘all-weather allies is showing up in both China and Pakistan; they do not know how to recalibrate their policies about Afghanistan…and India.

Pakistan, in particular, has a sense of betrayal not only from Beijing but also from fellow Islamists of the Taliban it created, funded, sponsored, armed, and launched against enemies. On its border with India, it is petrified of the substandard Chinese military supplies; on its border with Afghanistan, it is paranoid with the unpredictable Taliban.

Recent media reports indicate the level of distrust between China and Pakistan as well, despite their protestations to the contrary.

One report said that Beijing has sold substandard equipment to the Pakistan Army, making it vulnerable to any Indian attacks. Another report said that China, distrustful of Pakistan, has sent it’s own ‘armed workers’—soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles—to finish incomplete infrastructural projects, in the midst of terrorist attacks against them.

The first report indicated that China is not properly responding to the Pakistani Army’ concerns that their air defence systems deployed on the eastern borders with India was endangered due to technical failures.

The Chinese-built portable air defence systems, artillery rocket systems and surface-to-air missile systems, worth millions of dollars, are riddled with technical and operational deficiencies. Because of this, as many as 850 man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs), both launchers and missiles, have become dysfunctional, leaving a serious gap in air defence on its borders.

The Chinese-made FN-16 MANPADS were designed to intercept low altitude and ultralow altitude air targets like enemy helicopters and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles under visual conditions. But most of these systems are handicapped by defective surface-to-air night aiming and battleground signalling systems. Without these systems, the MANPADs are literally blind.

The Chinese manufacturer, Wuhan Infrared Co. Ltd, instead of quickly replacing or repairing the systems, has appointed an allied firm, Valiant Technologies, to sort out the mess. Equally serious problems afflict over 500 QW 18 MANPAD launchers imported from China.

These systems were supposed to counter aerial threats and have a range of 6 km with a speed of 600 metres per second. It boasts of high anti-jamming and multi-tracking capability.

The MANPADs form part of a larger contract of supply of 1,300 systems with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC). About 500 of these systems were inducted into the Pakistan Army in 2016. Numerous deficiencies were found in these systems during biennial functional testing of these systems at the army base workshops since July 2019. The army has asked CPMIEC to replace at least 47 of these systems along with one base control unit and one training simulator.

The story of multiple launch artillery systems, A-100, also bought from China, is similar. It was manufactured by the China state-run Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co (ALIT).

The A-100, incidentally rejected even by the Chinese Army, was inducted into Pakistan Army. During field trials, the Pakistan Army found it wanting in many respects. Even the Chinese manufacturer concluded that the systems had to be replaced as they were beyond repairs.

These problems are causing a serious headache in the forward air defence positions of the Pakistan Army which comes on top of the persisting issue of the defective Chinese-made LY80 surface-to-air missile systems.

These reports of substandard Chinese supplies to Pakistan have come at a time when the Taliban are about to take back control of Afghanistan after the sudden withdrawal of American troops, something neither Islamabad nor Beijing were ready for. The American move has made both Xinjiang vulnerable to China and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to Pakistan.

For, they fear, under the new global realignment of forces, the Taliban may become Washington’s militant arm against Beijing the way it was against Moscow two decades ago. That is why China is trying to coax the Taliban to shun terrorism and recalibrate adjustment.

The Taliban now control nearly 250 districts, out of 400, in Afghanistan, and Beijing is apprehensive of their designs in Xinjiang, imperilling the entire Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the restive regions like POK and Baluchistan.

Afghanistan is a key link between China and Central Asian republics, and Beijing envisions a “Pamir Group” of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan, with a new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China.

However, America’s masterstroke in arranging the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan has drastically changed geopolitics and put paid to China’s global ambitions. Apparently, the US has successfully persuaded the Taliban to join hands against China, the bigger foe, which has not only tried ‘genocide’ of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang but also attempted to wipe out the identities of even mosques and churches across the country.

Now, China is paranoid about insecurity overspill from Afghanistan and fears that it could become a safe haven for Xinjiang terrorists, whose trouble could further spill over to Central Asia and the Chinese mainland.

With China’s relentless efforts to blot out Islam from across the land, Beijing genuinely fears that Afghanistan could become a launchpad for the revengeful Taliban and for separatist activities targeting the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Xinjiang.

For long, Beijing has been blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a shadowy group it accuses of seeking Islamic rule in Xinjiang, of fomenting trouble in the restive, Muslim-majority province. Recent reports suggested that hundreds of ETIM terrorists were being trained by the intrepid Taliban in the Badakhshan area bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China. China and Afghanistan share a 76-km-long border which Beijing knows is porous for Uyghur fighters.

The CPEC was supposed to be extended to Afghanistan as well. This extension included projects like a motorway linking Peshawar and Kabul, and a trans-Afghan highway joining Pakistan to Central Asia. Afghanistan could have become a promising notch in the BRI.

As in Pakistan, where China is alarmed by attacks from militant groups like the Baluchistan Liberation Army, it fears uncontrolled attacks against Chinese interests in Afghanistan as well. The July 14 terror attack, in which nine Chinese workers and six Pakistanis died in a dam project, have heightened China’s fears, despite the Taliban’s ‘assurances’ as Beijing knows they are as unreliable as itself!

This particular incident has prompted China to deploy its armed men as ‘construction workers’ in the CPEC projects.

And Pakistan is in no position to say no to Beijing!

The Taliban: Pakistan scared of the returning Frankenstein it created!

Twenty years after the unsuccessful American troops withdraw from a minefield called Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, Pakistan is extremely worried of the Frankenstein it had conceived: The Taliban, perhaps the only terrorist group created by Pakistan that has gone beyond its control.

After the 9/11 attacks, America had launched its War on Terror to hunt down al-Qaeda militants and their leader Osama bin-Laden and bombed their hideouts across Afghanistan.

Since 2002, the US has provided nearly USD 88 billion in security assistance, USD 36 billion in civilian assistance, including USD 787 million specifically intended to support Afghan women and girls, and nearly USD 3.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, the US said.

At present, the Afghan government forces and the Taliban, seen as successors of al-Qaeda, are engaged in a war of attrition to control the terrorism-infested mountainous country, snatching one district here or there from one another on a weekly basis.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden told his visiting Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani in the White House that America will continue to “stick” with his country even after withdrawing the troops.

Islamabad is also apprehensive about a possible ‘secret’ deal between the US and the Taliban, as part of a ‘peace agreement’ between them. Washington could encourage the Islamists to attack Baluchistan to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), create a Greater Pakhtoonistan by splitting Pakistan’s northwestern areas and even launch attacks on China’s Xinjiang province.

That is why, for the first time, Islamabad dreads the prospects of the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan. For, these uncouth Islamic terrorists are ready to launch attacks even on Pakistan! No longer does Afghanistan provides a ‘strategic depth’ to Pakistan against India. On the contrary, Kabul is like the proverbial monkey Islamabad finds it impossible to shoo away from its shoulder.

It was this reason that Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi has ruled out hosting American bases in Pakistan for military action inside war-torn Afghanistan, fearing it might lead to his own country being ‘targeted in revenge attacks by terrorists.

He said as much in a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post newspaper ahead of US President Joe Biden’s meeting with top Afghan leaders at the White House last week. He even questioned the efficacy of such US bases in Pakistan.

Apparently, the article was ghost-written for Khan by the mandarins of the Pakistan Army and the Foreign Office—trying to balance between the two stools, America and Afghanistan.

‘We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price,” Khan said, amid reports that the US is focusing on Pakistan for a military base in the region to keep an eye on Afghanistan and adjoining areas.

Arguing for not allowing the US bases in Pakistan, which were earlier permitted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America in 2001, to coordinate operations in Afghanistan, Khan said, “If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again.’

The US had used the Shamsi air base in Balochistan province of Pakistan to carry out relentless drone strikes since 2008, focusing mainly on suspected Al Qaeda operatives in mountainous tribal areas. The US troops had also crossed this border to enter Afghanistan.

 “If the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?” Khan argued.

Not to rub America the wrong way, however, he claimed that Pakistan and the US have the same interests in Afghanistan: a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists. ‘We want a negotiated peace, not civil war,’ he claimed.

Pakistan is willing to partner with the US for peace in Afghanistan but “we will avoid risking further conflict” after withdrawal of American troops.

Even as the US withdraws foreign troops from Afghanistan this year, it is looking for options to keep a close eye on the region, trying to enlist support from other countries about it.

President Biden’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on Friday discussed US troop withdrawal amid a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country, according to media reports.

Khan claimed that “We have no favourites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from outside,” he warned America in an oblique reference to its ‘failures’ without Pakistan’s help.

Recalling the heavy ‘price’ Pakistan paid for its role in Afghanistan, he said, “More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the United States provided USD 20 billion in aid, losses to the Pakistani economy have exceeded USD 150 billion.”

He said tourism and investment dried up and after joining the US effort, “Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups”.

Questioning the use of US drone attacks, which “I warned against, didn’t win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries”.

Khan said there are more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their number may increase in case of further civil war in Afghanistan.

Most of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group and more than half the Pashtuns live on the Pakistan side of the border.

“This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government.

 “Further military action is futile. If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, once synonymous with the ‘Great Game’ and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation,” he said.

Thus Spake a scared Xi Jinping: ‘Be Loyal to Me’

Counting enemies outside the Great Wall of China, Beijing is now apprehensive of the foes lurking within. Having antagonized the world with alleged involvement in the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, and debt-trapping many poor countries, China is increasingly wary of a possible storm gathering within.

And the new threat is not just from within the Communist Party of China (CPC), or the demoralized People’s Liberation Army (PLA), mauled by India in East Ladakh last year, but also from the dispirited business leaders post-Jack Ma meltdown, and the influential middle class scouting for happiness beyond bread-and-butter, by seeking political liberties. Besides, the burning issues of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan have never been on the backburner.

The Dragon is trying to fight forest fire with the fire it is spewing.

Currently, China is facing growing global hostility over the Covid-19 origins, and allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Its mammoth projects under the USD 4 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have rather turned into millstones around the Dragon’s neck. For the first time in history, Beijing has successfully united its former friends and new enemies.

These growing uncertainties without and within have even forced President-for-Life Xi Jinping on June 18 to extract oath of ‘personal’ loyalty from his hand-picked top brass of the Communist Party of China (CPC), whom he suspects of colluding with his enemies.

The unprecedented and publicly televised pledge of loyalty followed after reports of alleged ‘defection’ of Dong Jingwei, Vice Minister of State Security—top spy chief—along with his daughter Dong Yang, via Hong Kong in mid-February to the USA. There, it was claimed, he disclosed everything about the Wuhan Institute of Virology which is at the centre of the coronavirus-leak hypothesis.

The viral rumour was so embarrassing that Dong had to direct his spies to look for rebels within. But this incident itself showed the extent of mistrust in top echelons of China.

In the 1990s, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had sown the wind with his four-pronged modernization; in the 2020s, Xi Jinping fears he will have to reap the whirlwind.

What happens when a vulnerable leader suspects those around, his own followers? Invariably, he extracts from them an oath of loyalty!

That is exactly what Xi did on Friday (June 18, 2021).

As China’s ruling CPC prepares to celebrate centenary celebrations on July 1, Xi publicly administered a loyalty pledge to senior Communist leaders, urging them to follow the “leadership core”—that is himself!—and strive for the country’s modernization and revival. This when Xi has supposedly emerged as the second strongest leader of the CPC in the last 100 years, next only to its founder, Chairman Mao Zedong.

The incident demonstrated his deep-seated fears of disloyalty within the CPC which has a membership of over 90 million across the land. The CPC, which had officially declared him as the “core leader” when he took power in December 2012, he thinks, is the first one to be won over to avert any possible rebellion against his leadership.

To reach the pinnacle of power and pelf, Xi has antagonised several CPC leaders and their families by targeting them under the alibi of rooting out corruption. Similarly, his regime has rubbed the country’s billionaires like Jack Ma, the PLA, and other sections of society by rubbing them the wrong way on different issues.

On Friday, therefore, he was forced to publicly extract an oath of loyalty from the CPC leaders during a visit to an exhibition at the newly-inaugurated museum of the CPC in Beijing.     

Standing ahead of the 25-member Politburo of the CPC, which included his No 2 leader Premier Li Keqiang, Xi administered the pledge which was telecast by the pliant state-run television channels.

The CPC, founded by Mao Zedong in 1921, has been in power since the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. The ruling party has, as part of the centenary celebrations on July 1, planned several events, including a military parade.     

Xi, 67, who succeeded his predecessor Hu Jintao in December 2012, quickly consolidated his position and concentrated power by heading the party, the powerful military and the presidency. He was conferred title of the “core” leader, thus doing away with the collective leadership of his predecessors.     

In his June 18 speech, Xi called on the members of the CPC to draw strength from the party’s history and strive for China’s modernisation and national rejuvenation.     

He said, “It is necessary for you to strengthen your awareness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported.     

Xi is originally set to retire like his predecessors after his second term in 2023, but is expected to continue for life as the top legislature National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the Constitution in 2018, removing two five-year term limits. It paved the way for his lifelong tenure in power, as President-for-Life.     

In the pledge administered, the members also said, “It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, uphold the party programme, observe the party’s Constitution, fulfil my party member duties, carry out party decisions, strictly observe party discipline, guard party secrets, be loyal to the party, work hard, fight for Communism throughout my life and to be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and people and never betray the party.”

The exhibition themed “staying true to the founding mission,” was opened on Friday at the newly-inaugurated Museum of the CPC in Beijing ahead of the CPC centenary.

In his speech, Xi said the party members should remain confident in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as always closely follow the CPC Central Committee in terms of their thinking, political orientation and actions.     

“The party’s history is the most vivid and convincing textbook,” Xi stressed.

Efforts should be made to educate and guide Party members and officials to stay true to the original aspiration and founding mission of the party, Xi noted.     

More than 2,600 pictures and 3,500 artifacts about the party’s history are on display at the exhibition.

The Great Game of the 21st century begins: China’s BRI versus G-7’s B3W

So the Great Game of the 21st century has begun: Eight years after China began its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme—later rechristened as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)–the Group of Seven Nations (G-7) has announced its own “Build Back Better World (B3W)—a mammoth plan with potential investments worth USD 40 trillion by 2035 across the globe, vis-à-vis BRI’s USD 3.7 trillion worth of projects.

In May, US President Joe Biden had hinted at it in his telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the 47th Summit of G-7 leaders, which is underway at Cornwall, UK, from June 11 to 13.

On the opening day itself, G-7 unveiled a global infrastructure plan called B3W to counter Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI. This amply demonstrated the G-7 members’ concerns about Beijing’s growth geopolitical footprint and the urgent need to counter it.

The first major step to counter China in geopolitics was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in which America has lined up three more democracies—Australia, Japan, and India. With the B3W initiative, Washington is drafting contours of the second front against Beijing in the 21st century, the way it had set up like NATO, CENTO, SEATO, etc. against the then rival Soviet Union after the Second World War.

“Build Back Better World” (B3W), will be a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies and intended to facilitate the building of infrastructure in poorer nations, a US  statement said.

“The adoption of the US-inspired “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project came after President Joe Biden and leaders met to address “strategic competition with China and commit to concrete actions to help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries”, the White House said.

The B3W initiative will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, it said.

“B3W will collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years,” said the White House.

The G-7 is more transparent with respect to its funding as opposed to China. The B3W project plans to put more emphasis on the environment and climate, labor safeguards, transparency, and anti-corruption.

In a veiled criticism of China’s approach to financing BRI projects, the White House said B3W investments would be led by “a responsible and market-driven private sector, paired with high standards and transparency in public funding”.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in the Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” the statement added.

The 47th G7 summit is currently being held in Cornwall in the UK. Participants include the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US and representatives from the European Union.

The new infrastructure plan is recognition of the growing challenge mounted by Beijing’s BRI, a mammoth infrastructure project, with the most ambitious being the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. With many BRI projects leading to debt restructuring, it has faced strong domestic opposition in various countries. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have canceled some projects, while China’s aggressive stance has forced others to do a rethink. Even the Opposition parties have expressed apprehension about CPEC in Pakistan. Beijing has faced accusations of operating as a predatory lender setting up debt traps for its ‘client’ countries like Pakistan.

Abraham Accords-II: Jews may help usher in a ‘Muslim Renaissance’!

Few had expected quick results, or any at all, to follow the “Abraham Accords” that the UAE and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington in September 2020 a couple of months before US President Donald Trump ran for a second term in the White House.

Within nine months, however, two remarkable things have followed: One, the 11-day Jerusalem-Hamas conflict did not escalate into a full-scale Arab-Israel war—except beyond a minor war of word. This when more than 200 Palestinian died in Gaza, which Israel target-bombed to destroy what it called ‘terror infrastructure’ after Hamas missile-attacked Jerusalem and other areas.

Two, within a couple of weeks after this war, and for the first time in history, an Arab Muslim political party has become a kingmaker in Israel, signalling the arrival of “Abraham Accords-II”. The Saudis, and other Arabs, could sign peace deals with Israel to counter the threats from non-Arab Muslim countries like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan, within the larger Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Jeddah.

In the 21st century, a grand Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation may be slowly emerging. It has the potential to bring about a “Muslim Renaissance” the second largest community in the world is expecting for a long time so as to shake off the burden of obscurantism, terrorism, and backwardness to join the global mainstream of development.

After several trials and errors, this megatrend actually began a decade ago with the “Arab Spring” heralding the retreat of feudalism and dynastic power transfer in the Muslim world. For that matter, even Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is targeting to resurrect the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate, is a democratically-elected leader.

Democracy, therefore, is in the air in the world’s most volatile region.

Israel is no exception.

After helming Israel for 12 crucial years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing ouster after his opponents announced a deal last week to replace him. Curiously, for the first time, a minor Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), has emerged as the kingmaker in Israel’s democracy as part of the anti-Netanyahu coalition.

The dramatic announcement made by Opposition leader Yair Lapid and his main coalition partner Naftali Bennett came soon after a deadline at last Wednesday midnight and prevented the Jewish country from plunging into its fifth consecutive election in just over two years.

“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel, those that voted for it, and those that didn’t. It will do everything to unite Israeli society’, Lapid tweeted.

However, no one is sure of this new government’s longevity. For, the coalition partners are still not clear on many issues except their opposition to Netanyahu. Its leaders, centrist Yair Lapid and ultranationalist and hardliner Naftali Bennett will lead the country as PM by rotation, with Bennett taking oath first.

Curiously, his right-wing party failed to cross the electoral threshold in 2019 and had no seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Two years later, he is ready to replace his former boss as the next PM.

A former chief of staff to then-opposition leader, Netanyahu, Bennett could now unseat the PM, bringing an end to his run as the country’s longest serving PM, for 12 years.

Despite his far-right beliefs, a former Defence Minister and millionaire Bennett, 49, has signed onto a historic coalition agreement with centrist leader Yair Lapid who cobbled together a wide swath of political parties together accounting for 61 seats out of 120 in parliament to oust Netanyahu.

And, for the first time in Israeli history, a Muslim party, United Arab List (UAL), led by a dentist Dr. Mansour Abbas, has emerged as the second kingmaker, in an awkwardly assembled coalition of unlikeliest parties, like that of the then Indian PM V P Singh’s in the 1989-91 period.

If Israel’s parliament green-signals, Bennett will take the top job for the first two years of a four-year term, followed by Lapid.

Interestingly, Bennett is even more ultranationalist than Netanyahu and will carry into office a history of incendiary remarks about Palestinians and his well-known criticism of the two-state solution and the ambition to annex part of the occupied West Bank.

Because of his far-right beliefs, Israelis gave only seven seats to Bennett’s Yamina party in the March 2021 elections, compared to Netanyahu’s 30 in the 120-member Knesset. But Bennett found himself the first kingmaker, wooed by both Netanyahu and Lapid who needed his party’s support in order to form a majority.

After his fallout, Bennett became a fierce Netanyahu critic, condemning his pandemic Covid-19 handling and country’s interminable political deadlock. Four elections in two years left the country in flux, with Netanyahu simultaneously appearing to be both stubbornly unmovable yet perpetually on the cusp of losing power.

It is in this backdrop that Bennett will become the PM.

Not only Abbas is the odd partner, even the two main coalition partners are also unlikely bedfellows. A charismatic former TV anchor, Lapid supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians and opposes the influence of religion in Israel, which he wants to address through steps like mixed civil marriages.

Bennett’s coalition agreement must first get a vote of confidence in the Knesset within a week of being formally notified as the PM of a new government. This step might not happen until Monday, which means the vote could be held as late as June 14.

That means there’s still time for Netanyahu and his allies to convince members of parliament to defect from the coalition, or somehow tie things up procedurally in parliament. A collapse of the ceasefire with the Hamas-led militants in Gaza or another outside event could also topple the burgeoning new government.

Apart from this internal Israeli politics, the Abbas factor is of crucial importance. If he remains survives as part of the government, he could become a source of inspiration to other Muslim leaders to reconcile with the Jews, bring peace to the region, and herald an era of Muslim Renaissance.

Dragon’s folly: China drives India back into the western camp

One of the key principles of a country’s foreign policy is to everything to drive a wedge between your enemies and prevent them from ganging against you. An overconfident People’s Republic of China (PRC) may have forgotten this basic rule of diplomacy and defense. In just one year, it has successfully forced India to almost abandon its “Look East” policy and drive New Delhi into the western camp that now also includes Australia and Japan from the East.

For instance, China’s short-sighted invasion in East Ladakh, followed by a bloody conflict, a prolonged standoff, empty threats and warnings, culminating into a humiliating meltdown of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in February 2021 convinced New Delhi that the Dragon was, at best, an unpredictable beast best kept at bay. That is when India began to actively participate in the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with the USA, Australia and Japan. This group is seen as a pilot project for the establishment of an ‘Asian NATO’.

The Quad leaders’ virtual Summit in March 2021 sealed the new-look India-US relationship, and determined how India sees its future with China.

India did not stop at that. In April, it went ahead with a post-Brexit relationship with the United Kingdom and moved closer to the European Union—using trade as the cement in both the cases. The enhanced trade partnership between India and the UK will start with market access to confidence building measures (CBMs) before graduating to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

India is also set to resume work from 2013 to align with the EU in the same spirit.

Given its historic relationship with London, the India-UK deal is expected to come faster because of vested interests involved on both sides. The EU’s case is rather rigid and more demanding of reciprocity.

India’s western tilt is not surprising. For long, India built independent ties with major European players like France, Germany, the UK etc, rather than with the EU as a unit. In particular, Paris became India’s go-to partner in Europe, cutting across sectors like defence, strategic, nuclear and multilateral spheres, to the extent that France can now almost replace Russia. The Nordics of Northern Europe are India favourites in areas like smart cities, 5G, AI and semiconductors. Outside the EU, the UK, with which India never quite severed its umbilical ties, holds enormous promise, media reported.

Global politics makes an interesting read. Some four decades ago, the US and Europe gave muscles to China against the USSR. The West believed that transformation of an impoverished Communist China into a prosperous one would make it more democratic and accommodative. The reverse has happened. China is now a global pariah and threat to the planet.

That is why an EU-China trade deal is hanging fire. Now the West is trying to support India, but cautiously, to balance China out. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is reaching up to Europe’s door and dividing the Continent, the way Warsaw Pact did.

Once bitten twice shy. The West would, of course, not repeat the mistake it did with China. India will have to work hard to convince the West that its transformation as a result of its engagement with the EU, US and UK will not be threatening the way China’s has become.

But India has an ace or two up its sleeves. One is human rights about which the West is very sensitive, particularly after the Dragon’s threats. This, India hopes, will ease its dialogue with the EU much easier. The other is climate change and preference to renewable energy sources which India plans to tap to generate 150 GW of electricity.

Plus India has some attractive offers, too, it can use to leverage its strengths: the world’s largest democracy, the second largest market, English language users’ pool, technology advances, talented youngsters and a climate change believing masses.

And China’s suspicious role in the Covid-19 pandemic has also come as a booster shot for India. It sent billions of Covid-19 vaccines to nearly 65 countries early this year, earning their goodwill in return, as a dependable democratic ally.

O’ Jerusalem! Old players, and a new script, pit non-Arabs against Arabs

The week-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beginning May 10, has little new to write home about. The issues are familiar, the players are also the same, and even the Palestinians continue to be the Muslim geopolitical fodder. It may soon lead to yet another ceasefire…until the next conflict.

Only the script is new, however—and that makes the difference.

Around 150 people, including some 140 Palestinians of Gaza Strip, have died in the latest conflict which apparently began with the militant ruling group of the city, Hamas, attacking Jerusalem with missiles. In retaliation, Israel also launched a fierce attack on Gaza….As in the past, there will be routine condemnations, highfalutin Muslim-friendly speeches, angry reactions from morally-high horsemen, assurance of much aid with little real one to the victim Palestinians, et el. Once again.

Under pressure from within the global non-Arab Muslim community, Saudi Arabia, which headquarters the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is hosting a virtual meeting of Foreign Ministers on Sunday (May 16, 2021) to discuss the issue. In all likelihood, Riyadh would try to push the issues under the red carpet.

But more important is Turkey’s role.

On May 13, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel a “terror state” after its police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. He also asked the Muslim nations to “take a clear stand” on this matter.

His communication director Fahrettin Altun condemned Israel on May 15 for targeting the 11-storeyed building in Gaza that housed offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and other media outlets. Nobody said what Israel said: the same building also allegedly housed Hamas group’s command centres and  “terror infrastructure”. If true, it is yet another proof that the terrorists have been successfully using the short-sighted and news-hungry media groups as a camouflage, everywhere.

Israel said that Hamas, which is ruling Gaza since 2007, has created ‘terror tunnels’ across the city’s residential areas having schools and other civilian facilities to protect itself from Israeli attacks. Jerusalem has often accused Hamas to intentionally follow this strategy and use human shields against Israeli attacks. But this time, the Jewish Army decided to teach Hamas a lesson, an official said.

Behind this Hamas strategy is the support it gets from Turkey and Iran which are out to corner the Arabs, led by Riyadh, within the OIC. Ankara wants to wrest the Sunni Muslim leadership from the Saudis; the Shia Tehran supports it. Both these communities coexisted for five centuries when Turkey was centre of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate until 1924 and Iran’s was also an empire, whose last dynasty was the Pahalvis until 1979. Tehran wants the Turks to subjugate the Arabs and cause a split within the Sunni ranks.

Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate in 1924 by Turkey’s progressive leader Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, changed the power equations. As many as 22 Arab sheikhdoms mushroomed on the corpse of the Ottomans. While Erdogan wants to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs are resisting it as they no longer want to be re-assimilated by the Sunni empire.

That was why Turkey and Iran sponsored Hamas to provoke Israel into attacking Gaza, knowing well that Jerusalem will counter-attack. It will force the Arabs to condemn Israel with which they have been trying to be friendly. Turkey and Iran were incensed against the Arabs since September 2020 when then US President Donald Trump organized a meeting of three Arab countries and Israel to sign up a peace deal.  The UAE signed it, with subtle support from the Saudis. Other Arab nations were also being lined up to sign these “Abraham Accords.” Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu even paid a not-so-secret visit to Saudi Arabia, sending clear signals which way the wind was blowing.

To corner the Arabs, Turkey and Iran apparently incited Hamas to stir the pot and provoke the Arab masses against their own rulers for signing the deal with an Israel which is ‘crushing’ the innocent Palestinian Muslims.

That is why seven years after the 2014 Israeli-Hamas conflict, the Levant region in the Middle East is burning, yet again. It is little of an Arab-Israeli conflict and more of the Turkey-Iran combine pushing the Arabs against the Jewish state.

As part of its strategy to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, Turkey is planning to pit 35 non-Arab nations—including Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia etc.—against the 22 Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia. This split in the Muslim Brotherhood, Ankara believes, could encourage the Arab masses to overthrow their Sheikhdoms in what it thinks could be the second “Arab Spring”.

This America and Europe want to avoid. That is why, President Joe Biden has supported Israel’s ‘right of self-defense’ and respond to the Hamas missile attacks.

Ever since Erdogan became Turkey’s President in 2014, he has transformed this progressive country into a regressive one, from a secular to an Islamist. He has also been trying to fish in troubled waters of other countries, such as France, inciting Muslims against various causes, in a bid to create an international support base for his dream project.

But there is a problem: the Ottoman Empire, until a century ago before it died in 1924, extended to the Balkan areas of Central and Eastern Europe, which is now part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Interestingly, even Turkey is its member (against Russia).

The last week’s mayhem stemmed from Hamas attacking Israel with hundreds of missiles, forcing the Jews to run for cover as nearly 10 of them died. Then the Palestinians demonstrated against the Jewish government at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, prompting the Israeli police to react.

The Israeli action at this mosque is an emotional issue for all the Muslims everywhere. The mosque compound, which also houses the revered Dome of the Rock, is believed to be the place from where Prophet Muhammad had started his nocturnal journey to meet Allah. It is, therefore, considered the third holiest Muslim shrine after Mecca and Medina.

Clearly, Hamas, and its sponsors Turkey and Iran, are inciting the Muslims and challenging the Arabs to condemn and break up with their ‘new friend’ (Israel), and dump the Abraham Accords, or risk alienation within the OIC before their possible expulsion.

The situation is, simply, complicated!

Watch this space…

Covid-19:2: China gets a much-needed ‘shot’ in the arm!

How do times change? And how a suspect in 2020 turns into a messiah in 2021? But how long can China hold on to this newfound importance?

China knows but is readying to use this ‘transformation’ to the hilt. The way it used the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a weapon to implement its gargantuan geopolitical objectives, the global vaccine shortage against the Covid-19:2 pandemic has suddenly come as a god-sent opportunity to an atheist Beijing. These vaccines are China’s BRI-II as they have become the latest weapon in Beijing’s arsenal to break or bend targeted nations to its will. At least in the short term.

Recall how then US President Donald Trump had dubbed the pandemic’s cause as a “Chinese virus” in 2020, vilifying the Dragon as the main culprit behind the spread of Covid-19. Some actions of China, like its alleged manipulation of the World Health Organization (WHO) to get off the hook, added to the mystery about the origins of the outbreak.

But 2021 is different. Trump is no longer the White House boss. China’s biggest Asian ‘frenemy’ India, a major vaccine supplier until recently, is struggling to contain the second wave of the pandemic and reduced from being an exporter of vaccines to importer. Paying back, some 40 countries, including the US, the European Union and the UK, have rushed medical supplies to India. If they had not, the rising tide of the pandemic in the vast market of India would have jeopardized future plans of their multinational corporations.

Media reported last week that the world is fast becoming ever more reliant on China for vaccines, as India has banned export of vaccines in view of its own precarious situation. Seeing China regaining its position, the US is also trying to recalibrate its position as a champion of wider access.

Over the past few weeks, some of the most populous countries have sought more doses of vaccines from China despite reservations about their efficacy. This demand may rise once the WHO authorizes vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd., allowing developing countries in the ‘Third World’ to access them through Covax, the global vaccination effort.

“China has become not just the largest exporter,” said Yanzhong Huang, a China specialist and senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In many countries it has become the only option.”

China’s potential reliability as a vaccine supplier has increased its geopolitical clout while the United States and the European Union allegedly hoarded their stocks and were slow to respond while India, Brazil and other countries gasped for breath. India’s crisis has forced the affected countries to turn toward China.

Seeing China’s quick responses, President Joe Biden said last week that the US will start playing a more active role. America donned the hat of Santa Claus, waived patents on Covid-19 vaccines to allow other countries to manufacture them, and rushed supplies to India. Planning to reposition the US in geopolitics, he is ready to make the country an “arsenal for fighting Covid-19” globally, amid attacks of new variants.

India, the world’s third-biggest vaccine supplier after China and the European Union, had exported 67 million doses to nearly 100 countries until the devastating second wave of Covid-19 forced it to halt most deliveries in April.

As soon as the WHO authorizes Chinese vaccines, many countries could line up before Beijing for supplies, despite concerns about potential public-health hazards involving these shots that have demonstrated lower efficacy rates than those made by America behemoths Pfizer and Moderna. Chinese vaccines have already been hampered by a lack of authentic trial data and a preference for vaccines from the Western companies.

But the world urgently needs vaccines. Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised last week that China would provide vaccines to countries that had been dependent on India. The same day, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe secured an agreement to enhance military cooperation with Bangladesh. Soon, Dhaka also approved emergency use of the Sinopharm shots as the promised 15 million doses it paid for from the Serum Institute of India (SII) failed to arrive.

In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping had opposed “vaccine nationalism” in a conversation with Indonesian leader Joko Widodo, whose government green-signalled Sinopharm for emergency use. Indonesia also secured an additional 15 million shots of Sinovac.

India’s export ban has made Indonesia increasingly dependent on vaccine supplies from China. Other countries have also been forced to fall in line, only a few months after they were dissociating from the BRI projects.

Even the Philippines, having a territorial dispute with China, fell in line as it negotiated with Sinovac for a monthly delivery of four million doses. After India’s export delays deprived Manila of its biggest vaccine order, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “China remains our benefactor. Just because we have a conflict with China doesn’t mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful.”

Pushed from the centre-stage to the side-lines in vaccine supplies, India is watching these development with concern. New Delhi believes the current phase of the pandemic will pass soon and it can ramp up supplies again in a few months. India is aware that China is trying to exploit New Delhi’s crisis but is confident that other countries understand its predicament, an official said.

But China’s delight may, after all, be short-lived. For, many people from Pakistan to Brazil and Africa show a traditional lack of confidence in Chinese products, including vaccines.

That is where the Dragon’s soft belly is!

Covid-19: Vaccines as a new global geopolitical weapon

Some nations have suddenly acquired a new weapon to further their geopolitical aims: Vaccines for Covid-19. Some multinational corporations, likewise, are using the once-in-a-century opportunity to make profit out of coronavirus victims.

They all conveniently camouflage their real objectives with high-sounding morals. Profit-making, not life-saving, has always been their mission statement. If anything, the pandemic has exposed all such hypocrites.

Start with Bill Gates, the global ‘idol of philanthropy’. In 2015, he was said to have predicted a pandemic soon. In the recent years, the Microsoft co-founder invested heavily in pharmaceutical sector to emerge as a vaccine czar as well. Despite his philanthropic claims, he would not like to transfer vaccine technology to others, including India, as he believed that it cannot be done without American “grants” and “expertise”. In other words, the developing countries cannot manufacture vaccines without American technology.

Gates, and the US, appeared peeved at India not only indigenously developing Covid-19 vaccines but also exporting these to nearly 70 countries in what became known as ‘vaccine diplomacy’. It was in this backdrop that US President Joe Biden, ostensibly at the behest of American vaccine-makers, invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to starve India of critical American raw material required to manufacture and deliver the vaccines.

India responded with some deft diplomacy of checks-and-balances. It showed a keen interest in Russian and Chinese vaccines instead! This alarmed Washington last week as its plans to contain China with the help of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)—the anti-Beijing group of four democracies viz, the US, India, Australia, and New Zealand—could go haywire. The Biden administration did a quick course correction to control the damage and, with amazing speed, sent assistance to India.

Not to lag behind, Russia also rushed planeloads of assistance including vaccines to beat the US at its own game. China, which initially tried to wean India away from America, later backtracked. Some 40 countries extended help to India, which is combating a killer second wave of the pandemic, as a pay-back: in the last few months, New Delhi had helped these nations with vaccines via the WHO and business channels.

Why is the US—or for that matter Russia or China—trying to leverage vaccine-making as a geopolitical weapon? This coronavirus is not a one-off epidemic nor is it going to disappear in a hurry. German vaccine-maker BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin had said in December 2020 that the virus will stay with us for the next 10 years. “We need a new definition of normal,” he said. No wonder, influenza is around even after a century, killing some five million people every year.

Clearly, all the Covid-19 afflicted will need effective vaccines, and then booster shots, to combat new variants of Covid-19. In addition, the co-morbidities and side-effects they develop will mean new business opportunities! Covid-19 provides a ‘sustainable’ business model for global pharmaceutical giants!

According to a report by the US health data company, IQVIA Holdings Inc., released last week, the world is going to spend at least USD 15 billion on Covid-19 vaccines until 2025, as the affected countries will have to go for mass vaccination programmes, followed by “booster shots.”

IQVIA, which provides data and analytics for the healthcare industry, said it expected the first wave of Covid-19 vaccinations to reach about 70 percent of the global population by the end of 2022. Booster shots are likely to follow initial vaccinations every two years as per the current data on the duration of effect of the vaccines, media reports said.

America itself is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be required between nine and 12 months after the people receive their first full inoculations against the pandemic. Top pharma player Pfizer has also confirmed that these shots may be needed within 12 months.