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Saturday, November 1, 2014

The two faces of Mr. Modi-KARAN THAPAR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assumption that in prehistoric mythological times India had mastered genetic science and plastic surgery is irrational

What do we expect of our prime ministers? This is not a rhetorical question and you’ll soon see why. We expect integrity, commitment, dedication, administrative expertise and, hopefully, a fair modicum of intelligence. But is that all? 
As important as all the other qualities, we also expect rationality. We may not always agree with what our prime ministers say or are committed to do but we assume that their thoughts and actions are rational, well-considered and credible. In other words, even if their decisions turn out to be wrong — and that often happens — they won’t offend against common sense. 
It is here that I have a bone to pick with Narendra Modi. Speaking at the inauguration of the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre last Saturday, he said: “Mahabharat ka kehna hai ki Karn maa ki godh se paida nahi hua tha. Iska matlab yeh hai ki us samaye genetic science mojud tha … Hum Ganeshji ki puja kiya karte hain, koi to plastic surgeon hoga us zamane main, jisne manushye ke sharir par haathi ka sar rakh kar ke plastic surgery ka prarambh kiya hoga.” [It is said in the Mahabharata that Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means in the times in which the epic was written genetic science was very much present. We all worship Lord Ganesha; for sure there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, to fit an elephant’s head on the body of a human being.] 
No doubt many Hindus share Mr. Modi’s assumption that in prehistoric mythological times India had mastered genetic science and plastic surgery. As individuals they are free to believe what they want. But for the Prime Minister of India to proclaim this belief as fact — and that too at the inauguration of a hospital — is something else. 
Why? This is because it’s not rational to use mythology as the basis for claiming scientific achievements. First, there’s no proof other than the assumption the myth is true and that’s an unwarranted assumption. Second, how do you account for the fact the scientific knowledge and achievements you are boasting of have been lost, if not also long forgotten, and there is no trace of any records to substantiate they ever occurred? 
Even worse, Mr. Modi’s views echo those of Dinanath Batra. His books are now part of the curriculum in 42,000 schools across Gujarat and carry messages from Mr. Modi when he was Chief Minister. They claim stem cell research was known in the days of Kunti and the Kauravas, television was invented at the time of the Mahabharata and the motor car existed in the Vedic period. Few would deny this is nonsense. Why wouldn’t you say the same for the claim India mastered genetic science and plastic surgery in prehistoric times?
I have two further points. First, Mr. Modi wants to build smart cities, stresses the need for education and is proud of the successful mission to Mars. He believes in digital India, wants to import bullet trains and ‘Make in India’ state-of-the-art defence weaponry. These are 21st century ambitions. How does all of that sit alongside this belief in unverified mythology? Are they not contradictory? 
Second, Greek mythology has centaurs and minotaurs; the Persians have the griffin; the British the unicorn; and fairy tales have mermaids and werewolves. Mr. Modi’s position would also lead us to believe these creatures actually existed. But does anyone believe they did? Surely only in our dreams? Or only whilst we were children? 
Ultimately, my problem with the Prime Minister’s comment goes a step further, but it could be the most critical of all. Under Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution it’s the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper. I can’t see how the Prime Minister is doing that by blatantly claiming medical advances on the basis of unverified myths. His views clearly and undeniably contradict this constitutional requirement. In fact, if he thinks about it I feel confident Mr. Modi would not disagree! 
These are troubling doubts and for the Prime Minister to be the cause of them is even more worrying. Finally, I’m dismayed this issue has not got greater attention in the media. Nor, to my astonishment, has any Indian scientist refuted the Prime Minister’s claims. Their silence is perplexing. The silence of the media is deeply disturbing. It feels as though it’s been deliberately blanked out by everyone.
(Karan Thapar is a television commentator and anchor of the Headlines Today programme, To The Point)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

India’s gender gap rank worse than last year- PTI

It ranks 114 out of 142 countries in World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index

India has performed poorly in removing gender-based disparities, ranking 114 out of 142 countries in World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, scoring below average on parameters like economic participation, educational attainment and health and survival.
India slipped 13 spots from its last year’s ranking of 101 on the Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum. India is part of the 20 worst-performing countries on the labour force participation, estimated earned income, literacy rate and sex ratio at birth indicators.
On the other hand, India is among the top 20 best-performing countries on the political empowerment subindex.
The index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress. The index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria.
On the criteria of economic participation and opportunity, India was ranked 134. Its female to male ratio in labour force participation was 0.36. The disparity in estimated earned income was high with females earning USD 1980 compared to USD 8087 earned by their male counterparts.
On educational attainment, India ranked 126 with female to male ratio in literacy rate at 0.68. India was the second-lowest performing country on health and survival, ranking 141 just ahead of Armenia.
However, on political empowerment subindex, India ranked an impressive 15. It is the highest-ranked country on the years with female head of state (over the past 50 years) indicator. There is also some evidence from India to suggest that women in local government roles make decisions with better outcomes for communities than men do when charged with budget decisions. They also appear to be more competent representatives than men, obtaining more resources for their constituencies despite having significantly lower education and relevant labour market experience.
The report said that India has the highest difference between women and men on the average minutes spent per day on unpaid work—a difference of 300 minutes. It is also among the countries with the highest difference in the female and male percentage of total R&D personnel. India has one of the lowest percentages of firms with female participation in ownership.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

More Worries than Hope at 100 Days of Modi Govt-Yogender Yadav

Mr. Yogendra Yadav at The Hindu

Compared to the UPA-style paralysis, there are some welcome signs of movement with the new government, but its direction remains, at best, unclear, if not worrisome. It is good to see a leader with conviction, but we are already treading the thin line between decisiveness and authoritarianism

It is unfair to judge a new government and a new leader in just 100 days. It is silly to assess the changing mood of the nation or the state of the polity so soon after a landmark electoral verdict. Yet, there is something we can do. We can notice a pattern in the priorities of the government, see the direction of the new regime, say something about the style of the new leader and make an intelligent guess about future politics.
Going by this, the first 100 days of the Narendra Modi government offer more worries than hope. Compared to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-style paralysis, we see some welcome signs of movement. But the direction of this movement remains, at best, unclear, if not worrisome. It is good to see a leader with conviction, but we are already treading the thin line between decisiveness and authoritarianism. A government that lacks a clear direction and an Opposition that lacks political will or wisdom threaten to deepen the political vacuum in the country.
Active foreign policy

Let us begin with the positives. A new government always kindles hopes and the Prime Minister’s utterances have as yet not doused popular hopes. His speech in the Central Hall and Independence Day address were not visionary, but it was a relief to see a Prime Minister who looked into the eyes of his people and spoke his mind. He was down to earth, appeared to be outside the power elite of Delhi, was concerned with issues that affect people in their everyday life and seemed willing to rise above the petty politics of a blame game. This powerful communication appears to have made up for his reluctance to face the media. And if opinion polls are anything to go by, his popularity and image have received a boost that every incumbent Prime Minister enjoys early on.
The real question is: how do his utterances translate into action? This is where things get muddy. The one area where the new government has been somewhat inexplicably active is foreign policy. And there are many things to commend here: the invitation to the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for the Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony, the toning down of the imperious attitude towards Nepal and a willingness to stand up to first-world bullying at the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, the new government has diluted further our principled stand on Palestine, is unclear about what it wishes to do with BRICS and keeps sending conflicting signals about Pakistan. There does not seem to be a coherent strategy underlying the foreign policy activism of the Modi government.
Electoral promises

Much was expected on the economic front of the government that promised everything to everyone in the run-up to the election. The problem here is not a lack of coherence but that the emerging priorities of the government do not square up with its declared intent. More than the Union Budget — rightly described as a UPA-III budget — the government has unveiled its economic policy through a series of specific decisions. The willingness of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make a U-turn on its earlier opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence, railways and insurance shows its priorities. That’s why a section of business seems to be happy and hopeful about this regime.
But there is very little visible action on some of the big ticket and high decibel electoral promises. Mr. Modi had promised nothing short of controlling inflation and providing jobs to everyone. Inaction on these aam aadmi concerns does not augur well for a government whose commitment to the poor is already suspect. In fact, the new government has gone back on some specific promises made to the aam aadmi. The BJP has already reneged on its manifesto promise to revise the Minimum Support Price on the lines suggested by the Swaminathan Commission, viz., cost plus 50 per cent. The proposed dilution of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act would reinforce the impression that farmers do not quite figure as a priority of this government.
On futuristic sectors like the environment and education, it’s plain bad news so far. The government is keen to go back to the old days of growth-at-any-cost, throwing all environmental caution to the wind. Hasty clearance for increasing the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam and the Ken-Betwa river linking project are mere symptoms of systematic damage to the regime of environmental protection carefully put together over the years. Forest clearance norms have been relaxed, pollution standards have been diluted, the autonomy of the National Board for Wildlife has been compromised, and attempts are afoot to downgrade the Green Tribunal.
On education, it is not clear if the government has begun to understand the enormity of the challenge in this sector. Forcing schoolchildren all over the country to stay back in order to listen to the Prime Minister on Teacher’s Day is no way to begin addressing the challenge of quality of education in the post-Right to Education (RTE) era. Occasional forays into higher education without a road map threaten to make an already bad situation much worse. While the government has not officially endorsed any of the loose talk about changing the curricula, the noise may have already begun to induce self-censorship, and thus curb innovation and creativity.
Religious harmony

One of the biggest fears associated with this government was its hostility to diversity, especially religious diversity. While the Prime Minister has been careful not to say anything that would accentuate this fear, the trouble is that he just has to be himself to make the minorities feel uneasy. Given his image, the Prime Minister not hosting iftaar acquires more weight than his conciliatory words about communal harmony. The context of rising communal tension, especially in election-bound States, suggests that the arena of action has shifted outside the government. There appears to be crowd sourcing of communalism, with occasional and strategic help from the Sangh Parivar. An obsession with the short-term objective of winning Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and at least the Jammu region in Jammu and Kashmir has made the ruling party oblivious to the long-term cost of communal polarisation to the idea of India, and indeed to this regime itself.
Challenge of governance

The immediate and crucial test for Mr. Modi is going to be the challenge of governance. He of course enjoys a headstart over the UPA-II government — that lost legitimacy for being both corrupt and inefficient. It is natural that routing measures of administrative agility and efficiency like ensuring attendance of government employees win popular approval. The trouble would begin when people start demanding outcomes. As of now, the government has not shown much resolve to stand by its commitment towards a corruption-free government. This government appointed the Supreme Court mandated Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money over which the UPA government had dragged its feet, but it seems to have forgotten its promise of getting black money back to the country within the first 100 days. The removal of Mr. Sanjiv Chaturvedi from the post of Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) showed that the government failed an early test of integrity.
Can Mr. Modi reverse these early signs and defy his critics? He clearly has time on his side. And he still has public support, if he is willing to learn and change. This is where the heart of the problem lies. The Prime Minister, the Leader and the Party Boss all rolled into one is closed to anything and anyone that can make him learn and change. He does not respect the autonomy of institutions like the Supreme Court. He does not allow procedures and norms to come in the way of what he wills, as in the case of the appointment of his Principal Secretary. Voices of dissent, whether in the Opposition or from within his party, are not welcome. Even Ministers are subject to strict surveillance. Loyalty must be rewarded even if it means retaining tainted ministers and making Mr. Amit Shah the head of the BJP. These are not signs of authority but that of authoritarianism.
Bad signals from the ruling party do not translate into good news for the Opposition either. The success of the incumbent Congress in the recent by-polls in Uttarakhand and Karnataka may have been illusory. The success of the grand anti-BJP alliance in Bihar is no more than a tactical victory; in the long run, it is going to help the BJP consolidate its newly acquired political support. In the first 100 days we have seen a government, warts and all. But we have not seen much of an Opposition. The remaining 1,725 days offer space for a true and principled Opposition, for alternative politics.
(Yogendra Yadav is a Member of the National Political Affairs Committee and the National Executive of the Aam Aadmi Party. E-mail: yogendra.yadav@gmail.com)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

At least a Vajpayee, if not a Nehru

Jairam Ramesh in The Hindu-

Transformational leaders will be judged not merely by the style of their speeches but more by the substance of their actions

The Prime Minister’s maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort has drawn wide encomiums. While invoking our founding fathers, he was decidedly partisan in not mentioning Jawaharlal Nehru, a key architect of the modern Indian nation state with its profound commitment to parliamentary democracy, secularism, science and technology, and economic development. Other than this glaring and undoubtedly deliberate lapse, the speech brought into sharp public focus a couple of social evils that continue to be a scourge on our society.
Low child sex ratio
First, the Prime Minister’s concern over female foeticide and infanticide, reflected most vividly in low child sex ratios (0-6 years), was very timely and urgently needed. Such a ratio at around 950 (that is, 950 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group) would be considered acceptable. But in India, it has fallen from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2011 and further to 914 in 2011. All our previous Prime Ministers too had expressed anguish at these numbers. Over the past two decades, determined social and political action have improved the situation somewhat in Punjab and Haryana — two States with notoriously low child sex ratios. The 2011 census revealed that the child sex ratio in Punjab was 846 as compared to 798 in 2001, while in Haryana it was 830 in 2011 as compared to 819 in 2001. These are still unacceptably low but the trend is encouraging.
But Delhi continues to be a cause for worry, showing a fall from 868 in 2001 to 866 in 2011. And what about Gujarat that is often held out to be a “model” of development for the entire nation to emulate? Gujarat’s sex ratio in 2011 was 886 (as compared to 883 in 2001) — a marginal increase no doubt, but significantly worse than the ratios in the southern States (959 in Kerala and 946 in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka). Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir showed sharp declines in child sex ratios between 2001 and 2011. Incidentally, while overall sex ratios (number of females per 1,000 males) have shown an increase across the country in 2011 over 2001, they have shown a decline in three States: Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and the Prime Minister’s showcase, Gujarat, where the overall sex ratio in 2011 was 919, as compared to 1,084 in Kerala and 996 in Tamil Nadu.
Second, the Prime Minister’s pain regarding the unconscionably high levels of open defecation in India should be shared by all unreservedly. Open defecation is an assault on the dignity, privacy and security of women. Less appreciated is that poor sanitation practices in our country are leading to a condition that public health experts call “environmental enteric dysfunction.” This condition contributes significantly to the persistently high levels of child malnutrition seen most visibly in stunting levels and tragically, perhaps, in loss of cognitive abilities as well. Clearly, chronic malnutrition cannot be combated only through ensuring food security. It must involve a fundamental transformation in sanitation and hygiene as well.
The Prime Minister stressed the provision of toilets in all schools, particularly for girls. That is certainly needed. But actions across many other fronts are also called for. The Indian Railways that carries over 20 million passengers daily is the world’s largest open sewer. More than extraordinarily expensive bullet trains that will cost upward of Rs. 100 crore a kilometre, what the country desperately needs are trains with bio-toilets. At present, over 60,000 coaches in use need to be retrofitted with this Defence Research and Development Organisation-developed technology and, of course, the 4,000 coaches that are manufactured annually must already have this installed when they are pressed into service. These bio-toilets are as essential for India as missiles and other technologies developed by the DRDO.
Thanks to the decisions taken by the United Progressive Alliance government as part of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), some 28 per cent of all Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) works in 2013-14 related to the construction of toilets. The unit cost of the toilets now being built was increased from Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 10,000. This has made a difference. For the first time, the NBA had provisions for dealing with liquid and solid waste management. The Prime Minister has spoken about involving the corporate sector as well. The UPA government had already made sanitation an important part of the guidelines for corporate social responsibility (CSR) stipulated in the Companies Act, 2013.
The Prime Minister’s priority to sanitation cannot but get support from across the political spectrum. States like Sikkim, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are almost open defecation-free. Kolhapur is about to become Maharashtra’s first open defecation-free district and Churu and Burhanpur are on the way towards this distinction in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh respectively. Tiruchirappalli has become India’s first open defecation-free municipal corporation. Women’s self-help groups that have been a remarkable success story in State after State must mainstream sanitation into their activities. But toilet construction is only one part of the story — much more important is a gigantic shift in mindsets and behavioural patterns. Nothing short of a social or cultural revolution will do. The nation needs to be shocked into it — that was the spirit of my “toilets before temples”, “women have more mobiles in India than toilets” and “no toilets, no brides” remarks that created a furore when they were first made two years back and got the Prime Minister’s ideological brotherhood all agitated.
Manual scavenging
Given the time he devoted to sanitation in his speech, it would have only been appropriate that the Prime Minister spoke feelingly about the persistent prevalence of manual scavenging across the country, even though affidavits are filed by States in courts stating that this dehumanising practice sanctioned by our caste system has been abolished. The 2011 Census revealed that there are still 26 lakh dry latrines in the country and there could still be 3 lakh families engaged in this appalling and degrading occupation. In September 2013, the UPA government had got Parliament to pass a tough new law, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. This “right to dignity” was very much part of the rights-based approach of the UPA that was launched with the passage of the Right to Information Act in September 2005. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have often criticised this approach but surely the ruthless implementation of this new legislation on manual scavenging is deserving of his special attention.
Transformational leaders will be judged not merely by the style of their speeches but more by the substance of their actions. The nation awaits a Prime Minister who, even if he disdains Nehru, governs at least in the Vajpayee mould: in a large-hearted spirit of give and take; one who takes people of different political backgrounds along amicably in the pursuit of pressing national endeavours.
(Jairam Ramesh is a Rajya Sabha MP and former Union Minister.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Are you have any Policy to Young and Jobless in India

India must devise a demographic policy to separately meet the requirements of the young, middle-aged and elderly

The Census data released recently show that unemployment in the country, especially among the youth, is very high, averaging nearly 20 per cent for the age group of 15-24 years. In some States like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, the unemployment rate is above 25 per cent. Prosperous States like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra have averages that are less than half of the national average. Demographic dividend in the country is not being appropriately used and there is a need to revisit the demographic policy so as to tap benefits from the youth.
Devising a demographic policy
There is also a larger issue of devising a demographic policy to separately meet the requirements of the young, middle-aged and older segment of the population. The reason for unemployment could be the lack of employment because of the quality of education or lack of opportunities. India has more than 71,000 pre-degree colleges and senior secondary schools, 25,938 colleges for professional educational and 436 universities. These are in addition to the nearly 14 lakh schools in the country for a population of 25 crore children in the age group of 5-14 years. Hence, given the number of educational institutions, there is a need to improve the quality of education by ushering in competition, by probably inviting foreign universities to set up campuses in India.
Employment creation is a function of economic growth, capital investment and infrastructure. As the process involves a long gestation period, one practical way could be to train our youth for employment opportunities abroad. India already has a strong outflow of migrants of which two-thirds migrate to the Gulf countries, 13 per cent migrate to North America while Asian countries, other than Persian Gulf, absorb about 10 percent. In contrast, fast-ageing Europe attracts less than 3 per cent of migrants but offers excellent opportunities for high and medium-skilled labour, especially in Italy, Germany, Poland and France. These opportunities need to be availed of the near future by appropriate manpower planning. In recent years, migration to countries like Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the U.K. has increased but not in significant numbers to Germany, France and Poland. In fact, the flow of migrants to countries like Portugal and Austria declined in the last decade. These countries need immigrants as the native population in many of these countries is shrinking, given the low birth rate averaging 1.6 births per woman against the replacement rate of 2.1. In countries like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland, the birth rate is less than 1.5 births per woman and these countries depend on immigrants. According to official statistics, consequent to ageing, one-third Europeans would be above 65 years of age by 2060. Consequently, migration to Europe is expected to increase significantly by 2020 — 1 million in Germany, 1.1 million in Spain, 1.3 million in Poland, 1.4 million in the U.K., and 2.1 million in France. Further, migration is expected to add up to 60 million people in Europe by 2060.
Providing suitable skills

In view of the fact that Indians migrate to the West in large numbers, the need is to ensure that they are suitably skilled. The plight of most illiterate and non-skilled migrants, generally illegal migrants, is pitiable. To equip them with suitable skills, cooperation from countries which are seeking immigrants can be sought. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs can explore guided migration agreements, bilateral with each of the countries in Europe and multilateral with the Euro area to educate and prepare migrants for the destination countries. The universities from these countries can be invited to India to train our youth in soft skills and necessary professional activities. Such well-trained migrants would serve two important functions: they would serve as brand ambassadors of the country and as a rich source of remittance.
Helping the elderly

There is one silent segment of the population, the elderly, which gets neglected in most of the policies of the government. There are more than 11 crore elderly people in India who are above the age of 60 years — generally women — who are in urgent need of care, as nearly 90 per cent of them who are associated with the unorganised sector are not included in any sustainable social security programme. While some three crore elderly people who are under the ‘below poverty line’ category get about Rs. 500 as old age pension, the remaining eight crore have to fend for themselves. In view of the weak and inadequate public healthcare system, they have limited access to medical services, many research studies have discovered. In contrast to many countries in Europe where age-related expenditure on health and care is 8-10 per cent of GDP, it is less than 1 per cent in India. Some simple initiatives to help the elderly could include granting respectable amounts of universal pension and universal insurance to help them live with dignity. The universal pension could increase with age, especially for women.
Finally, there is a need to address two things in connection with changing demographics in India — a need to have a think tank to study the problems of the elderly and age-related financial economics and a need to develop the science of medical gerontology, an area which is neglected in the country.
(Charan Singh is RBI Chair Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Syrian troops seize contested Damascus suburb-AP

Syrian government troops captured a fiercely contested suburb of the capital Thursday after five months of heavy fighting, flushing rebels from their last hideouts and quickly moving to crush pockets of resistance in the surrounding countryside, activists and state media said.
The fall of Mleiha, located some 10 km southeast of downtown Damascus, marks the latest setback for rebels around the capital. Over the past year, the opposition has watched as one stronghold after another has either slipped into government hands or been forced to strike lopsided truces.
The military’s campaign around Damascus has succeeded in pushing the rebels farther from the heart of the city, while also strengthening President Bashar Assad’s once shaky hold on the capital.
Assad’s forces have waged a ferocious offensive since April to try to dislodge rebels from Mleiha, pounding the town with airstrikes and artillery. Both sides placed a premium on controlling Mleiha because of its strategic location near the highway to the Damascus airport, as well the opposition stronghold of eastern Ghouta.
Government troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, finally seized the town Thursday, the Britain—based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Mleiha is under government control, but there is still fighting in the areas surrounding the town,” said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.
Syrian TV said army units have restored peace and security to Mleiha after destroying the last of the terrorist groups there. The government calls those fighting to topple Assad terrorists.
Syrian state TV and Lebanon’s Al—Mayadeen and Al—Manar TV stations broadcast live from the northern part of Mleiha Thursday. The footage showed bombed out buildings and dusty, rubble—strewn streets. Electricity cables dangled from apartment blocks.
“The Syrian army carried out early Thursday a critical military operation on the edges of the town through which it was able to take by surprise and destroy large numbers of Nusra Front terrorists,” Syrian TV said, referring to the al—Qaida—affiliated rebel group.
It showed soldiers waving their rifles in the air and shouting pro—Syria slogans in celebration. The crackle of gunfire could be heard, which the correspondent said was fighting on the edge of the town.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ukrainian air force fired over 150 missiles at Lugansk, bombed admin HQ- onfirmed report from Russia Today

Kiev has admitted showering the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk with dozens of missiles from the air, saying that its Air Force helicopters and jets “fired more than 150 missiles” in Monday’s military action.
DEATH TOLL: 181 people killed, 293 injured in Kiev military op
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also confirmed on Tuesday that the deadly explosion at the city’s administrative building was indeed an airstrike. Kiev has so far denied the responsibility for the incident, saying its forces “do not target” civilian areas.

The OSCE Ukrainian mission’s daily report stated that “on June 2, around 15:00 local time missiles hit the building of the regional government administration. According to the observers’ data, the strike was carried out with non-guided missiles launched from an aircraft.”
According to an earlier statement by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, the intense bombing in Lugansk area was meant to “support the Ukrainian Border Guards,” which the local militia have been trying to take under control.

“All in all, for fulfilling the combat support of the Ukrainian border guards the army aviators fired more than 150 missiles, carried out three jet sorties and five helicopter sorties,” the statement says.

The air support was backed by fighter jets launching decoy flares to prevent the attacking aircraft from being targeted from the ground.

According to the ministry, two self-defense checkpoints were destroyed in the attack.

Not all the Monday fighting was on the outskirts of Lugansk, apparently, as one Ukrainian missile hit the occupied Lugansk administration building, killing at least eight civilians inside and nearby. Some Kiev politicians have laid the blame on the self-defense forces for the “blast,” which has undoubtedly been confirmed as an airstrike by the accounts of witnesses and the CCTV footage from the scene.

Curtsy- Russia Today

Fighting between Yemen Houthis, govt forces, over hundards dead.

At least 120 people were killed in northern Yemen on Monday in fighting between Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels and government forces before a ceasefire was agreed, a Yemeni official said on Tuesday.

Ahmed al-Bekry, deputy governor of Omran province, said that Yemeni war planes bombed positions held there by Houthi fighters and army forces clashed with the rebels, killing around 100 of them. He said about 20 government soldiers were killed as well.

He said fighting ended by Monday evening after the sides agreed a ceasefire and no clashes were reported on Tuesday.

"Things are calm (today) after mediation efforts led by the interior minister," Bekry told Reuters, adding Yemeni air force action on Monday was one of the main reasons for the Houthis' assent to a truce.

Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

As well as the fighting in Omran, where the Shi'ite tribal militia is trying to cement its control over the northern highlands, Yemen is facing a threat from al Qaeda and a challenge from separatists in the south.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted in the past months between government troops and Houthis - named after the Shi'ite tribe of its leaders - as Sanaa struggles to restore nationwide control.

The Houthis blame elements of the Sunni Muslim Islah party within government forces and in the Omran local administration for the fighting.

Government officials say the Houthis, who have repeatedly fought government forces since 2004, are trying to tighten their grip on the north before next year's election and as Yemen eyes moves towards a federal-style devolution of power to regions.

Curtsy--Reuters

Friday, May 23, 2014

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Russian leftists blast Kiev plans to ban Ukrainian Communist Party-- Russia Today

Russia’s KPRF has attacked plans of the acting Ukrainian president to ban the Communist party in the country, as a threat to all leftist and patriotic forces, and says such a step is typical of fascist regimes of the past.
All fascist regimes in the world started their activities with a ban on Communist parties. Such threats are a threat to all leftist popular and patriotic forces,” the leader of Russian Communists, Gennady Zyuganov, said at a roundtable in the State Duma on Wednesday.
Zyuganov said the Communist Party of the Russian Federation had prepared a draft motion against the attempts to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine, and would submit it to the Lower House in the near future.
The Communist Party chief also added that he doubted the situation in Ukraine would change after the forthcoming presidential poll. “The suggestion that anything would settle there after May 25 is just an illusion. Presently, there are no conditions in Ukraine for holding normal elections,” he said.
Zyuganov called for Russian authorities to give greater support to the residents of the South-Eastern regions of Ukraine who support the federalization of the country. “No one is demanding to send in troops, but we have a right to support our friends and brothers,” he stated. “It is our duty to express our common will and do everything to help the Ukrainian people get rid of the fascist junta that tries to establish itself with US guidance,” Zyuganov told the Russian parliamentarians.
The center-left Fair Russia party has backed the initiative. “We are unconditionally supporting the motion in support of the Ukrainian Communist Party because while approaches to ideology might differ, a ban on a political parliamentary party in any country is a nonsense, and should not be allowed,” Fair Russia leader Sergey Mironov has said.
On Monday this week Ukraine’s acting president Aleksandr Turchinov asked the Justice Ministry to ban the Communist Party for its alleged involvement in the pro-federalist movement in Donetsk and Lugansk Region that, in Turchinov’s view, were threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity and national security.
The communists' policies have an openly anti-constitutional character Turchinov said in a letter to the Justice Minister.
In mid-May the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Pyotr Symonenko, said that the current Kiev regime was killing peaceful civilians in the country's southeast and spreading lies about the real situation. Symonenko has called on Kiev to stop its “anti-terrorist operation,” saying it has now turned into a “terrorist operation against its own people.”
State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin said on Wednesday that Symonenko had planned to attend the roundtable in Russia but could not do so because of threats to his personal safety made in Ukraine. Naryshkin added that Symonenko had to withdraw from the Ukrainian presidential race for the same reason.
Curtsy - Russia today

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gujarat behind left rulled West Bengal in new factory jobs 2004-2011

National Sample Survey data poses a challenge to ‘Gujarat growth model’

The latest National Sample Survey data show West Bengal topped in creation of new jobs in the manufacturing sector among all States.
During the six years between 2004 and 2011, more than 40 per cent of new manufacturing jobs created in India were generated in the then Left-ruled West Bengal.
In all, 58.7 lakh manufacturing jobs were created across India.
Of these, 24 lakh were in West Bengal. With 14.9 lakh jobs, BJP-ruled Gujarat was a distant second, shows the state-wise data accessed exclusively by The Hindu.
The data is significant as the widespread resistance in 2008 to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s acquisition of farmland in Singur for a small car factory was believed to have hit West Bengal’s attractiveness to industry. The State eventually lost the Tata Nano factory project to Gujarat.
Even during the anti-industrial campaign by the Trinamool Congress, allegedly with the help of Maoists in 2007-08, the State achieved 12 per cent industrial growth, West Bengal’s Finance Minister from 1987 to 2012 Asim Dasgupta told The Hindu.
It also assumes significance as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is touting “manufacturing” and “jobs” amongst his main planks in his election campaign and also the ‘Gujarat model’.
“Our objective in successive budgets was to increase the State Domestic Product in a manner that will generate maximum possible employment. Even in our last year, 2010-11, close to a lakh jobs were generated,” said Mr. Dasgupta.
“It is widely known that the Assembly election victory of the Left Front in 2006 was seen by Mr. Bhattacharjee as a vote for his emphasis on industrialisation,” said a West Bengal-based Left leader.
Dr. Dasgupta attributes the jobs performance to his government’s push to small-scale industry.
West Bengal has the largest number of small-scale manufacturing units, he said.
“Between 1991 and 2011— when we revised our industrial policy under Jyoti Basu — 2,531 new big and medium units were set up.”
Best period of industrialisation
A Communist Party of India(Marxist) source said that after the 1960s, the State saw its best period of industrialisation during 2004-2011.
Small-scale manufacturing enterprises were developed at the district level and all this culminated in Singur.
Prior to Singur, 1,872 middle and big industrial projects were developed during the period.
The Hindu

Saturday, April 12, 2014

​US corn exports to China drop 85 percent after ban on GMO strains – industry report

China’s rejection of shipments of US corn containing traces of unapproved genetically modified maize has caused a significant drop in exports. According to a new report, US traders have lost $427 million in sales.
Overall, China has barred nearly 1.45 million tons of corn shipments since last year, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), an American industry association, said Friday.
The tally is based on data from export companies and is significantly higher than the previous numbers reported by the media, which said roughly 900,000 tons were affected. US corn exports to China since January are down 85 percent from the same period last year, the report says.
China has been blocking shipments of American corn from its market since November. This was caused by the presence of the MIR162 genetically modified corn strain in the shipments. It was developed by the company Syngenta and has not been approved by the Chinese government since an application was submitted in March 2010.
China has sharply increased corn imports since the late 2000s, with purchases increasing from 47,000 tons in 2008 to an estimated 5 million tons last year. It was the third-largest importer of American corn before the imports of Syngenta’s GMO strain were blocked.
US traders want seed companies to shoulder some of the losses. They also say seed companies should not introduce new varieties of seeds to farmers until they are approved by major markets, including China.
Part of the ire is also falling on the Chinese government, which, traders say, maintains an opaque process of approving and rejecting GMO strains, an accusation that Beijing rejects. China has so far approved 15 genetically modified corn strains for import.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Russia can’t support Ukrainian economy forever-----Putin

Russia can’t continue to prop up Ukraine’s faltering economy, and this responsibility should fall on the US and EU, which have recognized the authorities in Kiev but not yet given one dollar to support the economy, President Putin has said.
“The situation is - to put it kindly, strange. It’s known our partners in Europe have recognized the legitimacy of the government in Kiev, yet have done nothing to support Ukraine – not even one dollar or one euro,” Putin said at a meeting with government officials at his residence outside of Moscow.
“The Russian Federation doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the authorities in Kiev, but it keeps providing economic support and subsidizing the economy of Ukraine with hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. This situation can’t last indefinitely,” Putin said.
In December, Russia provided Ukraine with a $3 billion loan, which was a part of a bigger $15 billion aid package agreed the same month. Russia also offered a 33 percent gas price discount that would have saved more than $7.5 billion.
The head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said that Russia’s loan tranche last year was vital for the collapsing Ukraine economy.
In the meantime, the West hasn’t yet effectively provided any money to Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund has agreed to provide Ukraine a bailout package of up to $18 billion, but the details are still being worked out. The US has also promised $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the collapsing Ukraine economy.

Gassing over gas

At the same meeting, Russia’s Ministry of Energy Alexander Novak said that Ukraine’s debt to state monopoly Gazprom stands at $2.238 billion.
Ukraine has not paid for Russian gas since the beginning of 2013, and with all discounts withdrawn it is now charged $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
This is a price Ukraine says it will not pay, claiming it is much higher than most of the rest of Europe pays for Russian gas.
President Putin also asked Gazprom to refrain from asking advance payments from Ukraine, until further consultations are held.
“This certainly complies with the contract, but given the difficult situation in Ukraine and the incompleteness of our negotiations with the EU, I would ask the Government to hold off on such measures [advance payments - RT] that appear in the contract until additional consultations, if, of course, our partners agree to such consultations.”
“If they don’t agree, we’ll act according to the existing contract,” Putin added.
Ukraine’s reserves of natural gas have dwindled to 6.5 billion cubic meters which is not enough for the coming winter, Gazprom’s Deputy Chairman Vitaly Markelov said at the meeting.
Kiev will need 11.5 billion cubic meters to keep the lights on, Markelov added.
Ukraine’s overall debt to Russia, including the bill for gas, now stands at $16.6 billion Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.
"Three billion dollars is Ukraine's debt, the accumulated gas debt stands at $2.2 billion, and what we consider Russia's profit shortfall, at $11.4 billion, in total, $16.6 billion."
Moscow turned off gas transit through Ukraine to Europe in the winter of 2006 and 2009 after Kiev failed to pay its Gazprom bill, leaving parts of Europe without energy during the winter months. Moscow has accused Ukraine of siphoning off supplies intended for Europe during these periods, an accusation Kiev refutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Communist candidate tops mayoral poll in Siberia’s biggest city

A Communist Party candidate has won the mayoral elections in the ‘Siberian capital’, Novosibirsk, leaving behind the United Russia candidate in what could be seen as a joint achievement by opposition forces.
Anatoly Lokot has won with about 43.75 percent of votes, the Novosibirsk regional elections commission reported on Monday morning. This is not the official result yet, but the preliminary figure was received after counting over 99 percent of ballots and any drastic deviations are unlikely.
Lokot’s result was about 4 percent higher than the one of Vladimir Znatkov - interim mayor representing parliamentary majority party United Russia. The support of the rest of 11 candidates was negligible – none of them managed to get 4 percent of the vote.
The mayoral poll was closely watched by the mass media because Novosibirsk is Russia’s third-largest city, the administrative and industrial center of Siberia, as well as a major science and technology hub.
The result was largely unexpected, as until recently United Russia party had dominated the political scene, capitalizing on the centrist conservative course which appeals to ordinary Russians, and taking credit for strong social programs and independent foreign policy that are both trademarks of President Vladimir Putin’s course.

United Russia candidate Vladimir Znatkov had the additional advantages of being acting mayor since January this year and before that heading the economic bloc in the city administration for several years. At the same time he faced serious problems during the race – in March a city court ordered he be removed from the ballot over abuse of power. Competitors had complained that Znatkov used every appearance on TV as propaganda and as the city head he spent more time on screen than the rest of the contenders. Very soon this decision was overturned by the regional court, but the damage to Znatkov’s reputation remained.
However, the main reason behind the interim mayor’s defeat is the coordinated efforts of opposition forces – a relatively rare occasion in modern Russia. The initial number of registered candidates in the Novosibirsk poll was 17. In the middle of the race, five people, including leftist lower house MP Ilya Ponomaryov and former senator Ivan Starikov, made a pact and withdrew their candidacies in favor of just one representative of the opposition - member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and former State Duma MP Anatoly Lokot.
One more candidate quit without supporting anyone, bringing the number of candidates to 11.
On Monday morning Lokot gave a press conference as mayor-elect and thanked all Novosibirsk residents for their “credit of trust,” adding that he did not intend to waste it. The first initiative of the Communist politician was to hold a major ‘Subbotnik’ – a day of voluntary community service that was first introduced in the early days of the Soviet Union.
The mayor-elect also dismissed media allegations of the looming “red terror” – major purges in the administration stating that he planned to use civil servants’ professionalism as the only criteria in forming the new team. Lokot promised to use his old connections in the federal power bodies to get more federal funds for development of the Novosibirsk communal sector and transport, including the Metro.
The newly-minted mayor also unveiled a plan to boost the cooperation between the administration and the society by adding openness to the various state bodies. The first step in this will be free entrance to City Hall for everyone.
“We should remove all curbs. What is there to be afraid of? Protest actions? Hard work will do away with such fears,” Lokot was quoted as saying by Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

​US supply of heavy weapons to Syria will ‘escalate slaughter’----Chris Bombery

The sudden shipment of anti-tank missiles to Syrian rebels from the US, which has so far been reluctant to supply any heavy weapons, is Washington's way of getting back at Russia by hitting the Assad government, political analyst Chris Bambery told.
On Monday, Israel’s Debkafile website reported that two moderate Syrian rebel militias, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Revolutionary Front, have been supplied with advanced US weapons — including armor-piercing, optically-guided BGM-71 TOW missiles.
Q: The US has been apparently reluctant since the start to send heavy weapons to Syria. Why would Washington be changing its mind now, if that is the case?
Chris Bambery: I think the answer is because of the cold war which is taking place between Russia and the United states over the whole question of Ukraine and Crimea, and I think once again the Americans see hitting the Assad regime as a way of getting back at Russia. So I think that’s a simple answer. I have to say I find it strange that we are hearing reports of these anti-armor weapons being given to these groups in Syria.
At the same time, here in London this week there’s going to be a conference expressing fears in the West about the number of jihadists who have gone to volunteer to fight in Syria and the fact that they could pose a threat when they come back. So we have British, European, Western governments worried about these heavy weapons. And as your report makes clear, yes they are providing them to these two groups who say they are pro-western, but these two groups say they actually cooperate with Salafist groups on the Al-Qaeda-linked ground. And secondly, we know as well that these groups have had difficulty defending their arms stocks from these groups when they come in. And I think the question I’m going to ask is, firstly, this is an escalation of course by providing these weapons — but where is it going to end?
The Americans gave Sergey Lavrov a promise they would not deliver anti-aircraft weapons to the Syrian rebels. The Saudis, having provided those weapons, the conduit through which these weapons have reached the rebels in Syria, will now be pressing Washington to provide anti-aircraft weapons — and if that happens, it’s going to be a significant escalation. So I think the West is opening up a Pandora’s box here and they don’t really know what they are doing. Once again, the Western policy towards Syria appears to be uncoordinated. On the one hand, they’re worried about jihadi groups operating in Syria and on the other hand, they’re providing heavy weapons such as this.

A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he poses for a photograph in the town of Morek in Hama province March 11, 2014. (Reuters/Rasem Ghareeb)
A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he poses for a photograph in the town of Morek in Hama province March 11, 2014. (Reuters/Rasem Ghareeb)
Q: What sort of role can they play in turning the tide in the Syrian conflict with weapons like these?
CB: It seems that the response of the Assad regime is to withdraw the heavy armor and step up the use of air power and artillery, which then of course the stepping up of air power will lead to sure voices from Riyadh demanding anti-aircraft weapons be supplied by the West to the Syrian rebels. But I would also have thought that with the help of Russia and elsewhere, they can quickly find ways of adding extra armor to the tanks to overcome this problem. It’s not insurmountable. But it will ring alarm bells in Russia and elsewhere around the world that actually the Americans are once again intervening in the Syrian conflict after the debacle of what took place last summer when Obama was stopped in his tracks from military intervention in Syria. Once again we’re talking about a civil war. Providing heavy weapons like this is just going to add to the slaughter and add to the civilian casualties. So I don’t know. I can’t find the rationale for Western policy in Syria. There doesn’t seem to be one, apart from seeing it as a way they can hit back at Russia, by hitting the Assad regime.
Q: The US and some of its European allies stopped short of a direct military intervention in Syria last year - is this position still tenable?
CB: I don't think there is any taste in the West, I mean they were stopped short by public opinion. If you remember, the House of Commons here in Britain voted against that because of the distaste people felt towards further military adventure after the lies of the Iraq war. But very quickly it became clear that public opinion in America was against military intervention in Syria.
I think it will be very difficult for Obama to now roll that back and directly intervene with troops or airstrikes, although his track record is not a good one, it has to be said when engaging in military adventures. But I think there's no public support for this, and hopefully this is as far as it goes. But as I say, the Saudis will be demanding that Washington increases its arms supplies to the rebels and they've demanded to provide anti-aircraft missiles to them.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Russian communists join international anti-NATO proposal


The Russian Communist Party has signed a proposition by international leftist groups condemning NATO politics and demanding the bloc is disbanded.
The motion was prepared by the Communist Party of Portugal to mark the 65th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.About 50 different left-wing parties and movements have already signed it.
We demand NATO dissolution and support the sovereign right of all nations to decide on their countries’ withdrawal from this aggressive alliance,” reads the document, a Russian copy of which was posted on the Russian Communist Party website on Wednesday.
The left claim NATO is responsible for the "non-stop" arms race and blames the bloc and its allies for over two thirds of the world’s total military budget. Nevertheless, NATO and its leading member, the USA, are constantly seeking to expand their military base network and areas of influence, the address reads.
The motion says the bloc acts under its openly hostile strategic concept and also expands the area where military intervention and occupation are possible, adding that such behavior confirms NATO’s main role as “a military wing of the major transnational monopolies.” It goes on to blame the USA and its NATO allies for numerous war crimes and significant damage, for cruel acts of aggression in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, interfering with other nations' domestic affairs, like in Syria or a policy of intimidation that is being applied to Iran.

The leftists also accused NATO, the USA and the European Union (which they called NATO’s European cushion) of aiding the growing militarization of international relations and other aggressive and hostile processes resisting the struggle for freedom of different peoples and the working class as a whole.
The proposal demands a stop to NATO expansion, the nuclear arms race, and the program to place US and NATO missile defense systems in Europe. It also promotes the complete ban on weapons of mass destruction, and the closure of foreign military bases all over the world, the immediate withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan and other countries.
We call the working people and nations of the whole world to join in the common struggle for peace, against war and NATO, and for the future where peace, progress and social justice would become priorities, where every nation could freely decide on its future,” the call reads.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is traditionally anti-Western and anti-NATO. The official position is much more tolerant – despite listing NATO as a potential enemy in its military doctrine, Russia has developed cooperation with the bloc, allowing cargo to be transported through its territory to Afghanistan and even opening a major transport hub for the purpose.
Ordinary Russians are more cautious. According to a poll conducted by the Levada polling center in mid-2013, two-thirds of Russians did not consider NATO to be a partner of their country, and only one in seven Russians thought that cooperation with NATO was a good thing. At the same time, NATO ranked only 13th in the rating of external threats, far behind international terrorism, drug trafficking, Mideast countries and China.

Turkish diplomat admits Syrian rebels carried out Reyhanli bombings


The bloody attack on the border town of Reyhanlı was carried out by Syrian elements of Al-Qaeda, and not by groups connected to the government of Bashar Assad, Tacan Ildem, Turkey’s representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told the OSCE Permanent Council on March 27. The report, published in Sunday’s Zaman, is the first time a Turkish official has contradicted the longstanding Turkish assertion that Damascus was behind the attack. On May 11, 2013, twin car bombings left 53 people dead and 140 wounded. It is the single deadliest terrorist act in the history of Turkey.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No solution for Syria without involvement of Russia and Iran---Chris Bombery

Western policy towards Syria is rather like Western policy toward Crimea and Ukraine at the moment – it’s flounring around, talking big but really not having the will to act, political analyst Chris Bambery told Russian news

Q: Is pouring more arms into Syria a realistic way to solve the conflict?
Chris Bambery: No, because the Saudi Arabians can offer money but they can’t offer the sort of arms needed by the rebels to reverse the civil war, which is taking place and in which the Assad regime has been winning. The only people who give the rebels the heavy weapons necessary are realistically the Americans, and the Saudis are desperate for the Americans to get involved. The problem the Saudis have is that the Americans and the West last summer wanted to take military action and they were forced to back off in part because of Russia and in a large part because of the public and political reaction in Britain, the US and elsewhere. And there is also a growing concern in the West about who these rebels are. The West and the Americans have always challenged the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army. These people have been pushed aside as they represent very little on the ground and we are seeing the Salafist groups supported by Saudi Arabia coming to the floor. And there is growing concern in the West about the large numbers of these Salafists who might well return to Britain, France and other countries in the West. And therefore, the West has got rather cold feet about getting involved in a civil war. And as that happens, as the rebels lose ground to the Assad regime, the Saudis are becoming even more strident in trying to demand that they give support. But they can’t even secure the vote of the Arab League to get the Syrian National Council represented in the vacant seat because the Assad regime is now being excluded.
Q: All this is happening as Western nations try to exclude Russia from talks, like at the G8 summit, which is the G7 summit now, where Syria is going to be on the agenda. Do you think the West will be able to find a solution without Russia?
CB: The West cannot find a solution which does not involve Russia and does not also involve Iran. They have excluded Russia and they have not allowed Iran to enter despite the agreements on the nuclear weapons. Until they involve Russia and Iran there is going to be no solution in Syria – that is obvious. And also the other problem they have, as I see it, is that the people on the ground [among] the Syrian rebels and Salafists aren’t interested in the peace talks, they aren’t interested in going to Geneva for these discussions. The West has got very little control of them. The Saudis have some control of them and they are not telling them to get involved in the peace talks either. The Saudis have inflamed the situation in Syria, they are hardly in control of it. In my assessment, Western policy toward Syria is rather like Western policy towards Crimea and Ukraine at the moment. It’s floundering around, talking big but really not having a will to act. And it’s almost the worst of the both worlds, the macho-posturing, but actually not backed up by very much indeed.
Q: Even if the West changes its stance on Assad, could they possibly support him against the jihadists?
CB: The Salafists are in a stronger position than they were relatively. But the Assad regime has been winning victories, in terms of the civil war the odds are on them. And I think what the West should be looking at is discussions involving Russia and Iran about the possibility of some sort of change inside Syria, which maintains the Ba’ath party, that allows those rebels, and could include a change at the top. I don’t think Tehran and Moscow will be averse to that, but of course that involves diplomacy and discussion, and the West is not doing that. The exclusion of Russia is really a disaster in terms of the ongoing Syrian peace talks, just as excluding Iran. And the West is posturing by claiming that actually the Syrian National Council represents these rebels. It is important to see that the war in Syria, those people are fighting, the Salafists, the campaign of terror is one of the sorts of terror that have been seen invading Iraq. They regard this as the same fight, the same campaign and the horrific violence, 700 people killed in the last month in Iraq, is part of the same war people are waging in Syria at the moment.