Dawn – The sanctions, the threats, the arms build-up, the shrill accusations and the allegations against Iran are all from a B-movie we have seen before.

They are all part of the march to war that preceded the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago. Thousands of lives and six trillion dollars later, the region and the world are in a far worse place.

Op/Ed, 19 May 2019. But empires never learn from their mistakes. Before Iraq, there was the Vietnam quagmire that cost nearly 60,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.

In fact, in its 239 years as an independent country, the US has seen only 17 years of peace. The rest of the time has been spent on fighting major and minor wars around the world.

From its string of wars against a defenceless indigenous population to heroic actions like the invasion of Panama, the US has used its overwhelming military muscle to impose its will on those too weak to defend themselves.

But every now and then, it has encountered foes that had the tenacity and the courage to give it a bloody nose. The North Vietnamese taught the Americans that there were limits to their power, a lesson reinforced by Iraqi militias.

And now, the hopelessly outgunned Afghan Taliban are forcing the Americans to eat humble pie in the grinding war of attrition that has been going on for 18 years in Afghanistan. The current negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans are an indication of the latter’s desperation to exit the arena.

Given this track record, why do people like John Bolton, the national security adviser to Trump, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, think they’ll do better against Iran? Granted that they are ideological hawks, and are itching to attack Iran at Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behest, but an armed conflict will be no walk in the park.

The Iranian armed forces showed they were no pushovers when Saddam Hussein attacked their country back in 1980. After eight years of bloody fighting against a foe that had the support of the West, including help in acquiring chemical weapons technology, the war ended in a stalemate.

Since then, the Iranians have developed a sophisticated arms industry, and a formidable standing army. Their naval assets include hundreds of small, fast boats that carry anti-ship missiles, and can also be used in suicide attacks. They have thousands of missiles that can be launched from caves that honeycomb the coast.

So while an American first strike will do considerable damage, the Iranian response will be ferocious. And American bases in the region will be hostage to Iranian attacks.

Should Israel join the US in its attack, expect Hezbollah to launch a major offensive from its bases in Lebanon. If there is one force in the Middle East the Israelis would prefer not to fight, it is Hezbollah. Battle-hardened, well-armed, highly motivated and trained, it is capable of doing major damage to Israeli targets.

Given all these factors, why do the Americans seem hell-bent on starting a war against Iran? Obviously, Israel, with its massive clout in Trump’s White House, has been urging the Americans to attack, using the Iranian nuclear programme as a pretext.

Never mind that uranium enrichment has been put on hold since the signing of the deal in 2015. Netanyahu has persuaded the gullible Trump that Iran’s nuclear programme had to be completely dismantled, failing which air strikes were the only other option.

Saudi Arabia has long been singing the same tune. The Saudis know full well that despite billions of dollars of arms purchases, their armed forces are no match for Iran. They have thus been calling on America to attack its hated regional rival.

Despite their string of military setbacks in the recent past, why are so many Americans still so gung-ho about yet another war? What is in the American DNA that has put the country on such a violent path? Why don’t American warriors give diplomats a chance to resolve differences rather than shoot from the hip?

I have long admired the creative ferment that has led to so many American triumphs in the arts and sciences. But I have been appalled by the daily acts of violence we witness with such sickening regularity. The killing of (usually) black suspects by cops, and the random shootings by armed psychotics in bars, schools and other public places have come to define America.

Although American forces have not exactly shone on the battlefield, they are still revered by the public. Despite the horrors they have visited on prisoners, politicians fear to criticise them. American generals, eyeing promotions and medals, have repeatedly assured politicians that victory is around the corner, given a few more years and a few thousand more soldiers.

But as we have seen, the years stretch on and victory remains elusive. And so it goes until the next war.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

https://www.dawn.com/news/1483033/here-we-go-again

The Asian Age – Photoshopped image shows first-ever Sikh Mayor as Arab Dictator in US

Washington DC – USA, 16 May 2019. Ravi Singh Bhalla, the first ever Sikh mayor of a city in New Jersey, has been allegedly racially targeted after his photoshopped image as an Arab dictator was published on a local website.

The New Jersey-based website, “Hudson Mile Square View”, ran an image of Hoboken Mayor Bhalla that resembled the lead character played by British actor Sacha Baron Cohen in the comedy film “The Dictator”.

The photo was part of a story titled, “Ravi Bhalla goes to the mattresses… for his tax increase”.

It accused Bhalla of “summoning all the powers” of his office to “re-institute a tax increase” that was not approved by the city council.

According to the website, Bhalla had proposed a 3 per cent tax increase but the council slashed it to 1 per cent. The story said now “the pushback from the Mayor’s office to take back the tax reduction is underway”.

Sikh activists denounced the image as racist.

Community speaker and activist Simran Jeet Singh tweeted on Tuesday: “Ravi Bhalla is the first-ever turbaned Sikh elected as Mayor in US history.”

“He’s endured immense racist abuse, from flyers calling him a terrorist to death threats against him and his family. Now, someone is photoshopping Ravi to depict him as a despot. This is racist and wrong.”

Audrey Truschke, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University and author of the book Aurangzeb, too, expressed her solidarity with Bhalla.

She tweeted: “Disagreeing with politics is OK, discrimination and racism is not. Read this thread, and the thread it references at the end, to educate yourself about ongoing prejudice in America. Such hate will cease when we all reject bigotry. Solidarity with @RaviBhalla”.

Later on Tuesday night, the website said that the image was submitted by a reader.

The website has earlier also photoshopped his images.

In February 2017, it posted a photo of Bhalla with a “Pinocchio” nose.

Hudson Mile Square View, which calls itself “Hoboken’s biggest website covering government, politics and corruption”, has been critical of Bhalla right from the beginning of his mayoral term in 2017.

This is not the first time that Bhalla, the first Sikh mayor of Hoboken, has experienced racist attacks over his religion and turban. Soon after his election in 2017, racist flyers calling him a terrorist were circulated in the city.

https://www.asianage.com/world/americas/160519/photoshopped-image-shows-first-ever-sikh-mayor-as-arab-dictator-in-us.html

The Asian Age – Foreign policy options after May 23 verdict

In India, the Narendra Modi government’s changes in foreign policy are both cosmetic and substantive.

K C Singh

Op/Ed, 8 May 2019. It may be useful to analyse the possible impact on Indian foreign policy of the looming May 23 Lok Sabha results. Three possible scenarios are a government led by the BJP, perhaps without a majority on its own; or a similar alliance led by the Congress; or an alliance led by a Third Front leader, albeit supported by either the BJP or the Congress.

A less likely, but not improbable, scenario could be a BJP-led government under someone other than Narendra Modi.

A similar debate has begun in America as a battery of Democrats have lined up to challenge President Donald Trump. In particular, the entry of Joe Biden, vice-president under Barack Obama, has sharpened the debate due to his legacy and experience. But Democrats don’t simply want to return to the past or the Obama track. The Economist notes “rumbles of revisionism”.

Broadly there is a consensus on the need for restraint as an evangelical pursuit to change the world and endless wars have depleted America’s wealth and ill-served intended aims. They also agree foreign and domestic policies must not be in silos as the US, when peddling democratic values abroad, must not ignore corruption and kleptocracy.

Finally, they debate whether foreign policy making needs to be democratised rather than conducted under notional congressional oversight. The recent move to limit the President’s war-making powers points there.

A Democratic administration may return the US to the Paris Accord on climate change, rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran, albeit with suitable tweaking, return to the Nato alliance without ambiguities, and so on.

Yet some elements may have been changed by President Trump irreversibly, like the bipartisan consensus on Sino-US relations is trade and investment with China needs new terms of engagement. This has implications for World Trade Organisation (WTO) reform.

In India, the Narendra Modi government’s changes in foreign policy are both cosmetic and substantive. The first relates more to hugging and protocol aspects that a new incumbent can immediately change, but can be expected to be persisted with by a re-elected Modi government.

The second falls under following headings: India-USA relations; China-Indian relations; Pakistan and the “zero terror” policy; countering radical Islamic terror and Jammu and Kashmir; Gulf and Iran.

It is noteworthy that the consensus on foreign policy, which last broke over the India-USA nuclear deal in 2008, largely shattered in the past five years due to the highly personalised, and hyper-nationalistic diplomacy of Mr Modi. Berating the Opposition while abroad, albeit on the pretext of addressing the Indian diaspora, began its collapse.

India’s readjustment to the post-Cold War world began with the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1991. Between him, the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government of 1998 and the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-1 in 2004, there was continuity in style and content.

The USA was wooed while retaining strategic independence, China engaged to incrementally expand areas of convergence, putting disputes on hold, Pakistan unsuccessfully but repeatedly tested to wean it away from terror sponsorship and accept confidence-building measures as a precursor to dispute settlement, J&K handled with a combination of hard and soft approaches, and finally a balance maintained in India’s policy towards the Gulf, Iran, West Asia and Israel. India also had a more active “Look East” policy, renamed “Act East” by the Modi government.

Essentially, you act only after you look, so it was the 1991 policy continued, to balance China, help craft a new Asian security architecture through building blocks like Asean Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and even the Quad, comprising four democracies straddling the Indo-Pacific, Australia, India, Japan and the USA.

A non-BJP government may begin by toning down the excessive bonhomie towards the Trump administration, which has openly backed Mr Modi, ensuring “wins” before and during the Lok Sabha polls. It is unimaginable that Pakistan would hand back IAF officer Abhinandan Varthaman, while Mr Modi is still threatening Pakistan, unless the USA-Saudi-Emirati interlocutors assured the Imran Khan government that this was merely domestic posturing.

Mr Modi claimed his threat, apparently nuclear, got Pakistan to comply. If threats worked, why did not India get consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, detained for espionage, and had to go to the International Court of Justice at The Hague?

Similarly, the rushed listing of Masood Azhar, that some reports said China was reluctant to concede during the Indian election, had a USA role, about which they reminded India when seeking Iran’s isolation. Earlier, the UAE had conveniently deported or extradited individuals during the Rajasthan and Lok Sabha polls as these were required to nail the Congress for corruption.

Desirable as cooperation is for combating corruption and terrorism, it must be balanced against insulating India’s elections from foreign interference. After all, Russia is similarly accused in America, which President Trump denies but the Robert Mueller report implicitly confirms.

A non-BJP government, particularly a Congress-led or supported one, may examine what, if any, were the trade-offs. First, Indian non-retaliation was conspicuous when the US imposed duties on Indian products. Second, the US pressuring India to distance itself from Iran and Russia.

Strategic independence, a core value on which our foreign policy rests, appears under pressure, if not compromised. But worse is foreign powers backing their favourites.

Pakistan is another case in point. Treating J&K as a pure law and order issue and Pakistan as a lunatic asylum impervious to anything but shock treatment of “surgical strikes” is brazen use of neighbourhood policy for communal-baiting domestically.

It may or may not win elections, but it leaves a poisoned chalice for a successor government, although it’s unlikely Pakistan policy will return to the romance of the Gujral-Vajpayee-Manmohan period. But no counter-terror policy can work which alienates a minority exposed to jihadi propaganda via the Internet, employment in the Gulf and travel.

The Sri Lankan Easter massacre is a warning of what awaits India. ISIS and its “caliphate” uprooted from Syria-Iraq is mutating and re-planting wherever fertile ground is available. Africa, particularly Sahel, is harbouring fleeing and new adherents, which the April 29 video of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will fuel.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have seen escalating attacks. British intelligence is tracking 10,500 jihadists in Sahel. How can India escape when BJP leaders are churning the communal pot for their electoral khichdi? The next government has a Herculean task to return the genie to the bottle, and counter politicisation of the military.

Hopefully, India’s voters will reject this dangerous gambit and its creator, Mr Modi, whom The Economist has dubbed “Agent Orange”.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry.
He tweets at @ambkcsingh.

https://www.asianage.com/opinion/columnists/080519/foreign-policy-options-after-may-23-verdict.html

The Tribune – Four of Sikh family killed at US apartment complex where shots were fired

A Sikh family was found dead at an apartment complex in Ohio where multiple gunshots were fired, reports said on Monday. No suspect has been identified.

West Chester – Ohio – USA, 30 April 2019. A man called 911 around 10 pm Sunday, saying he had arrived at the complex in a northern Cincinnati suburb to find four members of his family, three women and a man, wounded, according to West Chester Township police.

“They are on the ground and bleeding,” said the caller, often choking up and out of breath as the dispatcher struggled to get details from him. “They are all bleeding”.

At times, he can be heard on the 911 audio frantically yelling “Help!” apparently to neighbours at the Lakefront at West Chester complex.

Township Police Chief Joel Herzog said at a news conference Monday that it’s too early in the investigation to suggest a motive.

It will be up to the Butler County coroner to determine the cause of death and release the victims’ identities, Herzog said.

Herzog said that it didn’t appear that anyone had shot back at the perpetrator or perpetrators, whom police were still working to identify.

They were also interviewing family members and neighbours.

“It does not appear that the shooter is among the dead,” Herzog said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is any danger to the community.There was no lockdown in effect at a nearby school, he said.

“It appears to be isolated,” Herzog said.

He added that the victims all appeared to have lived in the same apartment in the township, which is a growing, mostly suburban area roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Cincinnati.

The man who called 911 provided little information on the call about what appeared to have happened. The caller has spoken to investigators, Herzog said. He confirmed that the caller was a relative of the victims.

Police said it appeared the family was preparing dinner when attacked, and there was some smoke when they arrived from the abandoned meal preparation.

Authorities have said that multiple agencies, including the State Highway Patrol, have been assisting in the investigation.

Police established a perimeter around the apartment complex early Monday and used police helicopters and K-9 units to search for a suspect.

Herzog said: “We’re actively searching with all the resources we can.”

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/diaspora/4-of-sikh-family-killed-at-us-apartment-complex-where-shots-were-fired/766050.html

The Hindu – No good options in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans

Rakesh Sood

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 30 April 2019. During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems, Monarchy till 1973; Communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the USSR with its 1979 intervention; Jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; Shariat-based Taliban rule; and a Democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004.

Wracked by a growing Taliban insurgency, peace today remains elusive. Reconciliation with the Taliban is increasingly projected as the way forward. But ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.

Negotiating an USA exit

The USA began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago. As it set about creating new institutional structures in Afghanistan, supported by the international community, USA troop presence began to grow. From a few thousand in 2002, the numbers increased and stabilised around 20,000 between 2004 and 2006 when they started climbing.

By 2010, it had spiked to 1,00,000, dropping to 10,000 in 2016 and currently numbers around 15,000. The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.

USA President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces.

Within a year, the policy failure was apparent. Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country. Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.

Last year, USA senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon.

Mr Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the USA, while the Taliban have demanded a date for USA withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan.

Mr Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return. The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government.

An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.

It is clear that Mr Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed USA exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former USA Defence Secretary J Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.

Increasing polarisation

There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides. With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.

The 2009 presidential election showed the growing mistrust between then President Hamid Karzai and Washington. The USA kept pushing Mr Karzai to agree to a second round between him and his rival Abdullah Abdullah despite Mr Karzai’s insistence that he had won more than 50% votes in the first round.

After months of wrangling when Mr Karzai agreed, Dr Abdullah backed out and Mr Karzai felt that his second term had been tarnished.

The 2014 election yielded a disputed result with neither Ashraf Ghani nor Dr Abdullah willing to concede. Despite an audit, results were never declared.

Instead, the USA-backed political compromise produced a National Unity Government (NUG) with Ashraf Ghani as President and Dr Abdullah as CEO, a position never legitimised by the promised constitutional amendment. The NUG has aggravated polarisation and has often found itself paralysed.

The 2019 presidential election, due in April has been postponed twice, to July and now to September 28. This may have been pushed by the USA to give time to Mr Khalilzad for his talks, but any further postponement will not be accepted by the people in view of the eroding legitimacy of the NUG.

Parliamentary elections due in 2015 were finally held in October 2018 even though the promised electoral reforms remained unimplemented. Under the circumstances, the results have yet to be declared six months later, further delegitimising the process.

Together with the deteriorating security situation, the prospects for a credible and legitimate election in September seem remote.

This is why there is growing support among certain Afghan sections for an interim government. Such an arrangement would prepare the ground for fresh elections after constitutional amendments and electoral reforms using the Loya Jirga process over the next two years.

Expectedly, this is strongly opposed by the more secular and liberal Afghan groups, including women, which see any such move as a step back from the democratic principles of the 2004 constitution.

The real risk is that as Western funding for salaries and equipment dries up and political legitimacy of Kabul erodes, the cohesiveness of the Afghan security forces will be impacted.

Elusive peace

Just as there is no domestic consensus on the terms of reconciliation with Taliban, there is a breakdown of regional consensus too. Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”.

However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process. The NUG feels abandoned and has blamed Mr Khalilzad of betraying the Afghan government; the USA has demanded an apology from the Afghan NSA, Hamdullah Mohib, for his outburst against the USA.

Moscow has its own format for talks and is convinced that the USA-backed experiment of the NUG needs to end, the sooner the better. Chinese interest is primarily with securing its Xinjiang province and the Belt and Road Initiative projects in the region.

Iran maintains its own lines with the Taliban even as elements of the Syria returned, battle-hardened Fatemiyoun brigade have given it additional leverage.

The Pakistan factor

Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban, after keeping him in custody for nearly nine years.

Ironically, he was picked up because he had opened direct talks with the Karzai government a decade ago and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was furious when it learnt about it. The ISI’s investment in providing safe haven to the Taliban for 18 years is finally paying off as the USA negotiates its exit while the Taliban negotiate their return.

A sense of triumphalism was visible in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures.

Even Mr Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.

Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action.

It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer. The problem is that a USA withdrawal will end the USA war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan. Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.

Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and currently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

E-mail: rakeshsood2001@yahoo.com

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/no-good-options-in-afghanistan/article26984397.ece?homepage=true

Washington Monthly – Another Act of White Supremacist Terror. When will GOP Leaders say enough?

David Atkins

Washington DC – USA, 28 April 2019. Two horrific acts of terrorism were committed this weekend against non-Christians. One by an Islamophobic Christian supremacist terrorist mistakenly targeting Sikhs (again), and one by an anti-Semitic white supremacist terrorist spouting “replacement theory” smears.

In the first case, a man whose father was a pastor and who was suffering mental illness in part due to service in Iraq, drove into a family of Sikhs in Sunnyvale, California, allegedly believing they were Muslims.

A 13-year-old girl is now in a coma and fighting for her life as result. The terrorist was allegedly on his way to a Bible study group and praising Jesus when authorities caught him.

In the second, a white supremacist took credit for an arsonist attack against a mosque last month, only after gunning down several people at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one.

He apparently wrote a anti-Semitic manifesto containing many of the same slanders against Jews found ubiquitously on conservative message boards across the internet, and that fueled the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany: that Jews are intentionally enabling non-white populations to grow in America and Europe in order to replace the white race.

That the theory is utterly bogus doesn’t matter: large parts of the conservative movements in the Anglosphere and elsewhere believe in it, and white supremacist terrorists have increasingly begun to act on it.

These are only the latest in a series of escalating terrorist acts against non-Christians and non-whites in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination and the presidency. Donald Trump, of course, doesn’t care: this is his base, as is obvious from even a cursory visit to any heavily pro-Trump forum on Fox News, Reddit, Voat, Gab or elsewhere.

White supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and misogynist rhetoric runs rampant across the entirety of the conservative movement, and the transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle of violent white male grievance has rapidly accelerated its longtime trend under Trump. It’s also no surprise that the president is doing less than nothing to stop it.

After all, in the wake of neo-nazi protests in Charlottesville allegedly to protect worshipful monuments to those who turned traitors to the United States in armed defense of race-based chattel slavery, Donald Trump didn’t want to make a statement for several days and then ultimately said that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Among the chants of those very fine people? “Jews will not replace us.” The same conspiracy theory that drove the terrorist attack in Poway today. Trump doesn’t care, though.

Today is also the day when he congratulated the white player picked second in the NFL draft, while ignoring the black player picked first. This is what he does. This is who he is. He knows his base, and he doesn’t care about anyone else. Beyond personal graft, enabling them is the core rationale behind his presidency.

The Democratic Party and the nation’s liberals are almost irrelevant to this conversation.

Arguments among progressives and liberals persist as to the depth of the bigotry among the least committed portions of Trump’s voters, just how many of them may or may not be persuaded to vote against Republicans on the basis of economic appeals, and how best to energize the infrequent voters among core Democratic constituencies including women, youth and people of color.

But functionally speaking, that argument is a strategic one over perhaps a 4-5% slice of the electorate. It’s a tactically crucial question that could make the difference between a Democratic landslide and a devastating narrow loss setting progress back for over a generation. But it doesn’t change all that much when considering the broad partisan direction of 90% of the country.

The more important question now is what the rest of the Republican leadership will do, and what the conservative infotainment complex will do.

As older, whiter, more male and more socially conservative voters decline as a portion of the electorate, the Republican Party has become increasingly hostile to democracy itself.

Gerrymandering, census manipulation, poll taxes, power grabs against branches of government they don’t control, voter suppression, and legislative intimidation against voter registration can all be done with little public fanfare to help them delay the inevitable.

But violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. And vague statements of general condemnation against violence won’t cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with it.

Whatever remains of the mushy middle of American politics is allergic to conflict, extremism and violence–and as conservative politics are increasingly associated with violent extremism, Republican room for electoral maneuvering decreases.

Conservative infotainment on cable news and the AM radio can maintain their radicalized audiences longer than the Republican Party can sustain its position: after all, a small population can keep conservative media in business much longer than it can continue to deliver majoritarian wins for one of America’s two major political parties, even buoyed by political affirmative action for older, rural white voters.

But conservative media has its own problem: advertisers. Corporate America knows where its future customer base is, and it’s not with the Fox News audience. So ultimately even the likes of the Murdoch family, Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcast Group will feel the hit from the abandonment of advertisers.

And that is all just tactical. Morally, how long can whatever is left of decency among Republican opinion leaders sustain the current trends as its base descends into radical violent extremism?

We certainly haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Maybe there isn’t one, but common sense dictates that at least some portions of conservative intelligentsia must have a breaking point.

At what point, either out of moral revulsion, sense of patriotic duty or sheer self-preservation, do Republican leaders start to try to put out the fire instead of fanning the flames? How many more deaths will it take?

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.

Another Act of White-Nationalist Terror. When Will GOP Leaders Say Enough?

The National – Once a white supremacist, always a white supremacist?

How an unlikely friendship between a Sikh man and a skinhead sparked a battle against racism

Oak Creek – Wisconsin – USA, 27 April 2019. On 05 August 2012, a white-supremacist gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and opened fire. Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president and revered leader of the gurdwara in Milwaukee, took five bullets in his torso when he confronted the shooter and tried to stop him.

“My father died a heroic death. He died fighting against a racist gunman,” says his son Pardeep Singh Kaleka.

“He died in the place that he helped build. He might have lost that fight, but we continue on in that battle.”

After the shooting, Milwaukee’s Sikh community decided not to fix the damage done to the door-frame by one of the gunman’s bullets.

Instead, they installed a small plaque below it that reads: “We are one.”

“I think there is a beauty to our painful history,” Kaleka says. “We are going to be resilient through all of this. ‘We are one’ are also the first words in our scripture.”

In the days after the shooting, Kaleka says he did all the things he imagined his father would have done.

He helped members of the congregation with their funeral arrangements. He became a spokesperson for his community.

But above all, he tried to make sense of the events of that day. Six people were killed and four wounded before the shooter turned the gun on himself.

“We weren’t surprised that a white supremacist would do something like this,” Kaleka says. “It just hurt because people were trying so hard to become part of the American fabric, and to be told that you are not American enough hurts.

“I wanted to know why the shooter did what he did,” Kaleka adds. “Why did he come to that temple on that day, on that morning, and kill the people that he did?”

Arno Michaelis, white supremacist

What Kaleka didn’t know was that someone else in Milwaukee at that time was also desperate to find out more about the killer. On the evening of the attack, when it was announced that the shooter was a white supremacist, Arno Michaelis was ashamed and worried.

Michaelis had been a leader in the white power movement in Milwaukee.

“In so many ways this guy was exactly who I used to be,” he says.

“I lay awake that night thinking [what] if it was someone that I recruited or someone that I knew from back in the day. I had this really sinking feeling from the get-go that I had something to do with this.”

That’s because for seven years, Michaelis had lived and breathed racism. He was a founder and leader of a worldwide skinhead movement. He sang in a popular white power band.

It was music that got Michaelis involved in white supremacy when he was 16.

“The lyrics were about race and nation and blood and soil, and all these really seductive themes that Adolf Hitler used to corrupt the minds of so many Germans back in the ’30s and ’40s,” he says.

“To me, all that language resounded with me. I didn’t really care about anything up until then.”

In those days as a young man, Michaelis says he radiated hostility. He explains how he was always trying to recruit people to his movement.

Michaelis doesn’t shy away from admitting what he did. In fact, he says he wants people to know exactly what a white supremacist is capable of.

“I don’t know how many times there were 10 of us walking down a street, and if we saw one lone guy and it was a just target of opportunity, we’d just jump on him and beat the mess out of him. Leave him a bloody pulp,” Michaelis says.

“Sometimes it was because they were black, sometimes we thought they were gay, and we’d just jump on them and brutally beat them and leave them for dead.”

Michaelis adds that his white power group had plenty of guns in those days, because they were preparing for a race war they believed was imminent. If he hadn’t left the movement, Michaelis wonders if one day he might have gone into a place of worship and killed people.

“Had I continued down that path, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the ideology would have made me so miserable that nothing but homicide followed by suicide seemed to make sense,” he says.

Birth and re-birth

What Michaelis says saved him was the birth of his daughter.

“By that time I had lost count of how many friends had been incarcerated,” he says. “And it finally hit me that if I don’t change my ways, then death or prison is gonna take me from my daughter.”

Michaelis left the movement. He took a job as a computer programmer.

He believed he’d left the world of white supremacy behind.

But when the shooting happened at the Sikh temple, his past came back, the shooter was a member of the same racist group Michaelis helped start.

“I certainly felt a real urgent responsibility because of the actual hands-on role that I had in bringing that group to life,” Michaelis says.

Once a white supremacist always a white supremacist?

Meanwhile, Pardeep Kaleka, still trying to understand his father’s murder, did something that would change his life.

Searching for answers, he contacted Michaelis.

“I just thought he might know the shooter,” says Kaleka. “And he might be able to get into the intricacies of the day or the day before, and why he chose that place.

“I was really just looking for an explanation.”

Kaleka spoke to Michaelis a few times on the phone before they decided to meet at a nondescript Thai restaurant in downtown Milwaukee.

“There was a part of me that was like, ‘what am I doing?” Kaleka says. “Because part of you thinks ‘once a white supremacist always a white supremacist.'”

The two men sat down together. They made small talk, and then Kaleka asked Michaelis the question that had been eating at him. “When I asked Arno ‘why did the shooting happen,’ he responded quite simply: ‘hurt people hurt other people,'” says Kaleka.

“He was honest, saying he didn’t know who the shooter was, but that the shooter was very much who he used to be,” Kaleka adds.

An unlikely friendship

Against all odds, Kaleka and Michaelis formed an unlikely friendship.

“We talked a lot about our dads,” Michaelis says. “And we talked a lot about our daughters. And we found out, as we are sharing stories, about how similar not only our loved ones were, but how similar we were.”

They committed to working together to stop the racist violence that had brought them together.

“People oftentimes ask me, ‘Why did you do that?'” Kaleka says. “The main reason I did that was to understand why people do what they do, and the more important thing, what are we gonna do about it?”

“I knew right there that Pardeep was gonna be an important part of my life,” Michaelis says.

Today Kaleka and Michaelis have created an organization called Serve2Unite that works with young people and educational institutions to cultivate compassion and inclusion.

They travel the world telling their story of how friendship overcame hate, and they meet hundreds of people, students, politicians, and push them to take action against racism.

“Dad’s life was one of connection and it was one of love,” Kaleka says.

“And I look at me and Arno’s journey together as an extension of that love. The lasting message from what happened on 05 August is NOT going to be the shooter’s rampage.”

Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja

https://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/white-supremacist-sikh-friendship-fighting-hate-1.5107715?cmp=rss

Tolo News – USA – Russia and China reach ‘consensus’ on Afghan peace

United States, Russia and China envoys said they support a second round of intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha.

Siyar Sirat

Kabul – Kabul Province, 26 April 2019. The trilateral meeting between special envoys of United States, Russia and China in Moscow on Thursday ended with a “trilateral consensus” on the Afghan peace process, reads a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

It was the second trilateral consultation on Afghanistan in Moscow, in which US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, Chinese Special Envoy Deng Xijun, and Russian Presidential Representative Zamir Kabulov discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and the ongoing peace process.

According to the statement, the three sides agreed on the following matters:

  • The statement reads that the three sides respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan as well as its right to choose its development path. The three sides prioritize the interests of the Afghan people in promoting a peace process.
  • The three sides support an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process and are ready to provide necessary assistance. The three sides encourage the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks with a broad, representative Afghan delegation that includes the government as soon as possible. Toward this end, and as agreed in Moscow in February 2019, we support a second round of intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha (Qatar).
  • The three sides support the Afghan government efforts to combat international terrorism and extremist organizations in Afghanistan. They take note of the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to: fight Daesh and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ETIM, and other international terrorist groups; ensure the areas they control will not be used to threaten any other country; and call on them to prevent terrorist recruiting, training, and fundraising, and expel any known terrorists.
  • The three sides recognize the Afghan people’s strong desire for a comprehensive ceasefire. As a first step, we call on all parties to agree on immediate and concrete steps to reduce violence.
  • The three sides stress the importance of fighting illegal drug production and trafficking, and call on the Afghan government and the Taliban to take all the necessary steps to eliminate the drug threat in Afghanistan.
  • The three sides call for an orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process.
  • The three sides call for regional countries to support this trilateral consensus and are ready to build a more extensive regional and international consensus on Afghanistan.
  • The three sides agreed on a phased expansion of their consultations before the next trilateral meeting in Beijing. The date and composition of the meeting will be agreed upon through diplomatic channels.

https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/us-russia-and-china-reach-%E2%80%98consensus%E2%80%99-afghan-process

Tolo News – Critics label Qatar meeting cancelation ‘a lost opportunity’

Political commentators said the cancellation of the meeting shows that there is “no sincere will for peace”.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 19 April 2019. The cancelation of the intra-Afghan meeting in Qatar met with strong reaction by Afghan critics and former Taliban members who called it “disappointing” and a “lost opportunity” towards peace in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

The meeting was canceled on the disagreement of Qatari government with the Afghan delegation’s formation, the Presidential Palace acknowledged in a statement issued late on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, Doha meeting was canceled because some people whose interests will be in danger do not want peace to come,” said Mawlawi Abdul Shakur, a former member of Taliban said.

“If they (the Afghan government and the US) wanted, they could handle the issue because they had everything under control. An airplane could come and would transfer all members of the delegation to Doha. But it shows that they are not supporting peace and it seems that the US is also not sincere in its will for peace,” said Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, a political analyst.

Other critics said they expect that another intra-Afghan meeting will take place in Uzbekistan in mid-May.

“After the Doha meeting, there will be a meeting in Samarkand and it is a kind of meeting for starting an intra-Afghan dialogue. Now as Doha meeting has not happened, for me it looks like the date of Samarkand meeting also may change,” said Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a university lecturer.

“The Samarkand meeting will be a negotiation platform and so far, an agreement has not been made about its details that how the Afghan government will attend the event and who will participate from the Afghan side,” said Fawzia Kofi, a former MP.

In reaction to the cancelation of the Qatar meeting, Taliban in a statement said it was an attempt by the Kabul government to cancel the conference.

“Participants of the meeting could mention their personal views, but the Kabul government in meetings at the Presidential Palace mentioned issues such as red lines and conditions.

Also, the government issued a list of the participants of the meeting before sharing it with the organizers of the meeting, which the list was neither proportionate with the event’s venue nor it was possible to admit all the participants,” Taliban said in a statement.

“Taliban believes that the government ‘deliberately’ tried to create disorder in this regard,” the statement read.

The Meeting Canceled

The Presidential Palace in the statement on Thursday said that the Doha meeting was “canceled” as the Qatar government did not accept the Afghan delegation’s list and instead suggested a new list “which was not acceptable to the Afghan government”.

“After completion of preparations of the delegation for going to (Qatar), Qatar government sent a new list which was not balanced in terms of involvement of the people of Afghanistan and in other words it was a disrespect to the national will of the Afghan people and this is not acceptable to the people of Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“A group of politicians at a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani agreed that the act by the Qatari government is not acceptable and they decided to ask the Qatari government to allow the attendance of the Afghan delegation selected by Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“As far as the government of Qatar could not practice our legitimate suggestion, the Doha conference was canceled.”

The statement said that the government and the people of Afghanistan are committed to achieving a dignified peace and will continue their sincere efforts in this respect.

Meanwhile, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said in a tweet that he is “disappointed” that Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative “has been delayed”.

“We’re in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue and the Afghan peace process,” he said.

“Dialogue is and always will be key to a political roadmap and lasting peace. There is no alternative.

I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans. I stand ready to help if our help is needed,” he tweeted.

Former President Hamid Karzai said a statement that the Doha meeting was delayed but added that Afghans will continue their efforts for peace through an intra-Afghan meeting in the near future.

Sultan Barakat, Director of Doha Institute, who was expected to host the Afghans-Taliban meeting in Qatar said in a tweet that the meeting was delayed as it is “unfortunately necessary to further build consensus as to who should participate in the conference”.

“There is no disagreement over agenda items and nobody is questioning the serious commitment of all sides to achieving peace. Rather, there is insufficient agreement around participation and representation to enable the conference to be a success Doha Afghan talks,” he said.

https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/critics-label-qatar-meeting-cancelation-%E2%80%98-lost-opportunity%E2%80%99

Pieter Friedrich – How India’s ruling party mobilizes Indian-Americans to win elections

India is having its first national election in five years.

Partisanship in India is no better than in the United States. Probably much worse. Political party choices polarize families, friends, and whole communities, and every election season can be a very divisive time.

No wonder then that the USA’s nearly 4.5 million Indian-Americans watch India’s elections with sharp eyes.

A recent episode on Indian-American Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj’s show illustrated the nature of the diaspora’s interest in Indian politics. In a promo, he reveals his topic to Indian couples sitting at home. They are horrified: “Indian elections are a definite no-no.”

“Democracy is for people with power, people with muscle power and money power,” says one man. “It’s not for you and me.”

“There will be an accident,” says one woman. “You will be burnt to death. Be gone.”

“You cannot talk about Narendra Modi,” warns another woman.

Indeed, unless it’s something positive, then talking about Indian Prime Minister Modi can get people into real hot water. Last year in India, for instance, a high school teacher was arrested for writing on Facebook that voting for Modi is like “garlanding a dog.”

Talking about Modi in the USA, meanwhile, is very controversial. The issue splits the Indian-American diaspora. One side believes in Modi and is devoted to advancing his vision for India. The other side believes Modi is a fascist leader with blood on his hands.

Nothing widens the divide more than the religious angle. Only about half of the Indian-American diaspora is Hindu. The other half are a diverse mix of Buddhist, Christian, Dalit, Muslim, Sikh, and so forth, or non-religious.

Modi’s party is a religious nationalist party and he identifies as a “Hindutvavadi” (supporter of Hindutva). The ideology teaches that all Indians are Hindus and non-Hindus are foreign to India.

Beyond differences of opinion, the diaspora is also split in how it is involved in the Indian election.

Those who oppose Modi often follow elections in India with great interest, and maybe even talk or write about them, but do little beyond.

Those who support Modi organize rallies, training camps, and campaign events, in America. While one side alleges that Modi staged a pogrom, thousands of volunteers from the other side return to India to physically canvass for his political party.

Perhaps another reason that talking about Indian elections is controversial is because the Indian diaspora’s surpassing interest in the issue often slips into direct involvement, even to the point of serving as boots on the ground in India.

The opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), is just as guilty as Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of attempting to organize direct involvement of Indian emigrants in Indian elections.

Yet they cannot hold a candle to the success of the BJP in harnessing the diaspora. The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) provides the organizational structure underlying that success.

The OFBJP was launched in America in April 1992 to counter negative press.

Eight months later, in December, a BJP-organized crowd of 150,000 tore down a mosque in India. Their fervor was stoked by speeches from BJP elected officials and even the party president, who demanded that the government build a Hindu temple there instead.

Razing the mosque provoked nationwide riots in which an estimated 2,000 Muslims were killed. In response, the opposition-controlled central government temporarily banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary involved in the violence.

The BJP, which was created by the RSS in 1980, responded to the scandal by establishing a strong international presence of trained party activists. Internationally, the OFBJP eventually expanded to nearly 40 chapters. In America, their membership is largely composed of USA citizens.

The OFBJP-US says its goal is to project a “positive and correct image of India” in the West and “correct any distortions” in media coverage. They work hand-in-glove with BJP leadership back in India.

For years leading up to Modi’s 2014 election, OFBJP chief Vijay Jolly toured the U.S. to speak at diaspora rallies and meet American politicians.

“We need to touch base with as many among the diaspora as possible and to indoctrinate them with the BJP ideology,” Jolly says. Speaking in 2015, after the BJP won in India, he urged the OFBJP to be “expansionist.” He has since been replaced by Vijay Chauthaiwale as head of the BJP’s Foreign Affairs Cell.

Considering its 2014 levels, any expansion of the OFBJP-US would make its reach and potential for influence truly colossal.

Nationwide, it boasts 18 chapters in 13 states. In 2014, it reportedly had 4,000 members. It has an elected National Executive Committee of 10 people and a nearly 40-person National Council.

In 2013, over 1,000 people turned up to watch Modi deliver a live, televised address to the OFBJP-U.S.’s annual convention in Florida. When the BJP won India’s state elections in December 2013, the group organized victory parties around the country. In Houston, Texas, over 300 people showed up.

Then the OFBJP-US swung into high gear.

They had a three-pronged strategy. Organize phone-banks for Indian-Americans to call back to India and tell people to vote for the BJP. Finance a Modi victory fund. Travel back to India to put boots on the ground to campaign for the BJP directly. Like a sleeper cell waiting for orders, the group sprung into action in January 2014.

In Houston alone, a diaspora media outlet reports that 700 people “worked round the clock to motivate voters in India.” The key organizer was Ramesh Bhutada, who also happens to be Vice-President of the American chapter of India’s RSS paramilitary.

Nationwide, then OFBJP-US President Chandrakant Patel said that thousands of activists were making 200 calls or more per day.

How much money OFBJP members actually donated to Modi’s victory fund is a difficult thing to determine. Yet the mass mobilization of U.S.-based BJP backers who went to India to canvass for Modi was widely reported.

By March 2014, Chandrakant Patel was personally leading a team of over 1,000 OFBJB-US operatives. Aside from promoting the party, some of them reportedly even ran polling booths. They remained in country for the duration of the phased, month-long voting process.

Their hard work paid off. Modi was announced as the new Prime Minister on May 12. Over the ensuing weeks, the OFBJP-US hosted victory parties throughout America. One event in Atlanta, Georgia drew a crowd of 700. Others also drew hundreds.

Because of his human rights record, Modi was barred from visiting the U.S. in 2005. As the newly-elected executive of India, however, he was now free to travel. He soon made plans to do so.

To herald Modi’s arrival, Foreign Affairs Cell head Vijay Jolly again began touring the USA. In September 2014, just four months after he was elected, Prime Minister Modi spoke to a crowd of nearly 20,000 in New York City.

It was a publicity bonanza which enthused BJP backers all around America. For instance, diaspora media reports that Vijay Pallod, who campaigned for Modi in India, flew from Texas just to attend.

After 2014, the OFBJP-US continued to organize rallies, stage protests, and host tours by BJP elected officials from India, expand its membership, and train its activists.

The new OFBJP-US President, Krishna Reddy Anugula, estimates the group has a loose network of up to 300,000 Indian-Americans. They began mobilizing months ago in preparation for when polls open in India on April 11, 2019.

Coordinated phone-banking is underway, activists are making hundreds of phone calls each, and putting in hours a day after work to support the Indian political party from America.

Anugula says that thousands of Indian-American operatives will travel to India to work until the phased elections end.

While these teams permeate India, trained activists in the U.S. are making a stir.

In February, after a local youth bombed a military convoy in Kashmir, the BJP blamed Pakistan and began agitating for war.

As tensions soared between the two nuclear-armed powers, the OFBJP organized protests in at least six U.S. states to demand that India attack Pakistan. Signs said things such as “world hates Pakistan.”

They also began hosting Chai pe Charcha (Chat Over Tea) events. Chai pe Charchas have occurred in Washington, New York, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, and many other locations. One in Chicago on March 3 featured Sunil Deodhar, a BJP national secretary.

From America, they have also heeded the call of India’s Prime Minister.

Terming himself a “chowkidar” (watchman), Modi declared in March, “Your chowkidar is standing firm and serving the nation.” He called on everyone working for India to say “Main Bhi Chowkidar” (I am a watchman). Obediently answering Modi, activists attending Chai pe Charcha events began publicly pledging to work for his re-election.

Most recently, at the end of March, over 400 activists gathered in California’s Silicon Valley for a conference featuring Kailash Vijayvargiya, a BJP national general secretary.

Thus, the OFBJP’s operational approach seems to follow this model. Embrace the political party line. Emigrate. Take up USA citizenship, which requires renouncing Indian citizenship.

Spread the mother country’s party line to project a “positive” image in the adopted homeland. Cultivate diaspora interest in the party. Return to India, as U.S. citizens, to campaign for that party and instruct Indian citizens who to vote for.

Thus, every election season, the BJP harnesses the help of people who are dedicated to keeping the BJP in power in India despite having abandoned life in India themselves.

Elections in India conclude on May 19. Until then, the OFBJP promises to grow only more heavily involved. The impact of thousands of American boots on the ground in India remains to be seen.

It appears, however, that Indian-Americans organized by the BJP have already played a huge role in influencing Indian elections and are working to expand that role.

Perhaps that influence, some might call it interference, is one reason why, as Hasan Minhaj discovered, the topic of India’s 2019 General Election is no laughing matter for the Indian-American diaspora.

Pieter Friedrich is a South Asian Affairs Analyst who resides in California. He is the co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent.

Discover more by him at
www.pieterfriedrich.net.