Apr 30, 2007

Russia Announces its Comeback

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signalled Russia's return to the centerstage of world politics from where it was thrown out when the USSR lost the Cold War. Putin in his annual state of the union address - which could be his last before he demits the office in 2008 - used his speech to reassert an identity for a united Russia and to talk in no uncertain terms about where Russia is going.

Throughout the speech, Putin returned to the idea of unifying a nation that is making a comeback. He spent much time celebrating Russia's political and economic consolidation -- which, he said, will allow the government to improve the standard of living for the population and address the social problems laid out in his 2006 address. He outlined a string of ambitious reforms for the housing, education and pension sectors, as well as an overhaul of the transportation, aviation and nuclear power sectors.

Putin wants Russia to be great again. He has successfully consolidated his political and economic control and now hopes to stoke the fires of nationalism and rally the people behind a new Russian identity. And Russians are applauding; they have not had a strong sense of identity in 18 years. With a unified populace behind him, Putin hopes Russia can assert itself on the international scene as it has not done for decades.

That assertiveness came through clearly in Putin's harsh rhetoric for the international community. He accused foreign countries of hoping "to continue plundering our national wealth as they did in the past," and trying "to deprive our country of its economic and political independence." He called for a moratorium on the implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which has been the foundation of Europe's post-Cold War security. Regardless of whether the Kremlin acts on it, this was a clear signal to the rest of the world that Russia believes it no longer needs to adhere to Western rules.

Russian leaders have always included veiled threats to the West (or East) in their formal speeches. But now the government has the cash, political power and popular support it needs to make good on them. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the international community will take the Kremlin's threats seriously -- even if Moscow does not actually intend to act on them.


Anyone who has been watching Russia in the past few years will not be surprised by this. The various signs have been apparent: the aggressive takeover of Russia's energy sector; the maneuvering among the members of Putin's inner circle; and the crackdowns on dissidents, media, political parties and foreign influence. Russia has begun to lay the groundwork for a massive revitalization that will include its energy sector, its military, its former territories and its autonomy from Western rules and demands.In effect, Putin has now announced the state's return to its old ways.[Stratfor]

Not only this, Russia under Putin has also shown India its place in Russia's scheme of things. And we are not able to do anything about that.

It is time India played its cards well and does not put all its eggs in one basket (read: United States). A strong Russia will find it extremely hard to ignore the business opportunities in a fast growing India just like they found out with China. We should learn to play competing countries off against each other - something that is practised with finesse by countries like Fiji, Myanmar etc.

Apr 26, 2007

Defending the Indefensible

A couple of days back Stratfor had brought out a report on Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, ISI’s efforts to Islamise India’s Northeast. A Pakistani origin journalist based in Canada, Abid Ullah Jan - who himself is critical of ISI - has reacted to this Stratfor report. In an article he tries to paint the ISI as just a “tool” in the hands of Pakistani governments and one “without any strategic mission, vision or direction of its own”. He further says that this is a part of US’s long-term strategy to undermine Pakistan and make it submit more to USA’s whims and that Stratfor a.k.a “shadow CIA” was just used by CIA as the messenger.

The latest CIA allegation levelled against the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, is that it is spreading Islamization in South Asia in collusion with the Bangladesh intelligence agencies to set a trap of Islamic militants for India.

These allegations appeared in America's premium news intelligence service STRATFOR, which is also known as the CIA's cousin. Those who work for STRATFOR are also the leading figures in running discussion groups such as the Political Islam Discussion Group (PIDL) for infecting the debate about Muslims and Islam.

Such reports are part of the CIA’s (read the US government’s) long term scheme to undermine Pakistan, starting with neutralizing its armed forces and its intelligence agencies. To be fair, like the overall Pakistan military force, the much dreaded ISI has been used like a whore by the CIA in every possible way. At home, both the civilian and military dictators use the ISI as a draconian tool. But this is all that the ISI is: just a tool, without any strategic mission, vision or direction of its own.


......The question is: Why then does the CIA come up with these allegations against the ISI?

The answer is simple: to extract more obedience from Islamabad in the near future and to facilitate the ditching of the ISI in the longer term. History shows that the U.S. government has previously attempted to use ISI crimes to press Pakistani governments into submission. The Washington Post published a report in its September 12, 1994 edition in an attempt to implicate the Pakistan army in drug trafficking. The News published the same report in October 1994. In 2003, the ISI faced severe criticism at a U.S. Senate briefing on the drug trade, a crime in which the CIA has been involved since 1960. Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall tell us in Cocaine Politics Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America, (University of California Press, 1991 that the CIA works with narcotics traffickers and then fights to suppress the truth. They conclude, the U.S. government “is one of the world’s largest drug pushers.”

Time and again, the U.S. lawmakers threatened the ISI and Pakistan with allegations of drug trafficking, yet ignored the fact that even if some military or ISI officials were involved in drug trafficking on a personal level, the amount they privately smuggled into the United States was no more than a fraction of the amount trafficked by the U.S. agencies. According to Paul Johnson: “By the end of the 1980s it was calculated that the illegal use of drugs in the United States netted its controllers over $110 billion a year.” (Paul Johnson, Modern Times, New York: Harper Perenial, 1991 rev. ed., p.782.)

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune (August 13, 1996), Celerino Castelo--a former DEA agent--stated that together with three other ex-DEA agents, they were willing to testify in Congress regarding their direct knowledge of CIA involvement in international drug trafficking. Castillo estimates that approximately 75 percent of narcotics entered the United States with the acquiescence or direct participation of CIA and foreign intelligence agents.

In this backdrop, the March 2003 hearing of the U.S. Senate[1] was just another threat in the vast trap being laid for the Pakistani army for the next several years. Furthermore, ISI assets, Saeed Sheikh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were used in operation 9/11. The extent to which the ISI was dragged into the trap of 9/11 is not fully known. That, however, remains a time bomb for Pakistan. It didn’t get diffused with the “termination” of former ISI chief General Mahmood Ahmad. It can explode at any time the US decides to disarm and neutralise Pakistan like Iraq.

The entrapment process adopted by the U.S. agencies is very simple. They plan and commit a crime of serious magnitude. They achieve their strategic objective behind the crime. At the same time, they involve the victim in just a fraction of the overall criminal plan. The unknown/unintended cooperation in the crime is then later used to punish the victim. This is exactly how the BCCI was trapped. Irrefutable evidence demonstrates that the CIA funded the operation against the BCCI with drug money, earned through the organized selling of drugs to its own employees. According to the court transcripts of the BCCI case: “By late 1987, the agents had passed approximately $2.2 million derived from Don Chepe’s proceeds through the IDC account, and had split the 7-8 percent commission profit with Mora and Don Chepe’s representative Javier Ospina, without telling any BCCI officers about drugs.”[2] Yet, it was the BCCI that paid the price.

The recent allegations of the ISI’s spreading Islamization in South Asia is part of the overall pressure exerted to extract more obedience from Islamabad for strategic reasons. Unlike Mossad and the CIA with their long term plans, the ISI is nothing more than what its current masters want it to be. The allegations of its spreading Islamization are just nonsensical.

How is it possible for the commander in chief of the armed forces, hell bent on eradicating all traces of Islam from the constitution, the school curriculum and at home, to allow one of his strategic arm’s, the ISI – presently holding hundreds of Islamic activists in illegal detention – to evangelize Islam!

No doubt Musharraf is bluffing his paranoid masters with the mantra of enlightened moderation to prolong his rule. To believe, however, that his pet agency is working with a strategic vision for the spread of Islam would be naïve beyond the farther reaches of imagination.[MMN]

What Stratfor reported on ISI’s agenda for India and particularly India’s northeast, was nothing new. Security analysts world over have called Pakistan’s ISI “a law unto themselves”. There is overwhelming evidence of ISI’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks and in abetting terrorism world over. There is also evidence of Pakistan working overtime to delete embarrassing details of its involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks.

With such overwhelming evidence on ISI’s global terror activities lying around, it’s audacious on Jan’s part to try pull the wool over the public’s eye like this.

Apr 21, 2007

Stratfor on the Islamisation of India's North-East

Stratfor opines India should give closer attention to the growing Islamisation in the northeast.But with the UPA govt on a Muslim appeasement drive, this is like asking for the moon.

Northeastern India is a region wracked by secessionist violence, where wide networks of drug smuggling, extortion and arms trafficking run rampant. India has traditionally dealt with the myriad secessionist movements through force, fearing that any concessions made to one group would only exacerbate the others' secessionist tendencies and further undermine the country's territorial integrity.

The balkanization of the region and the constant drain on Indian resources required to deal with these rebel movements was all part of the United Kingdom's blueprint for the Indian subcontinent to prevent its former colony from developing a strong national identity and emerging as a major Asiatic power. Up until the partition in 1947, the British played a major role in encouraging tribal, ethnic, religious and linguistic identities, and in isolating various tribal groups from the mainland and the plains areas in Assam for the British East India Co. to secure its commercial enterprise.

Pakistan did not hesitate to jump in where the British left off in the post-partition period, and has since used its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fund, train and arm these rebel groups in order to keep India's hands tied. The largest and most powerful of the northeast secessionist movements is the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Once a student movement with populist aims to redistribute the state's oil wealth, ULFA has gradually changed into what appears to be a moneymaking machine with a strong willingness to do the ISI's bidding. ULFA runs an impressive extortion racket in the northeast, where Assam's tea plantation owners and corporate leaders are regularly targeted.

The group maintains that its armed campaign will not let up until the Indian government engages it in unconditional peace talks. Yet, when New Delhi makes such an offer, ULFA usually responds with a bombing, as was the case in the April 9 bomb attack near Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's motorcade in the Assamese capital of Guwahati. ULFA's leadership understands that New Delhi is not about to reward the armed movement with political concessions, and does not wish to disturb the financial networks it has running throughout the region. Moreover, to preserve their militant proxy, the group's handlers in both Pakistan's and Bangladesh's intelligence services have told ULFA not to hold peace talks with the Indian government.

Pakistan's ISI, in cooperation with Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), appears to be investing a considerable amount of resources in solidifying India's militant corridor. There are growing indications that these two agencies are working clandestinely in Bangladesh to bring all the northeast-based insurgent outfits and jihadist elements under one umbrella. The ISI has facilitated cooperation between ULFA and other northeastern militant outfits with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, Islamist militant groups in Kashmir, Islamist groups in Bangladesh and a growing number of al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups operating in the region.

Religion, ethnicity and ideology lose relevance within this militant network, as each group has a common interest in furthering their militant and financial capabilities by working together. For example, Tigers cadres organize training camps in the northeast and use their maritime contacts to assist ULFA in transporting arms and narcotics up to Cambodia in ULFA-owned shrimp trawlers that operate out of Bangladesh's Chittagong port. The Tigers have also been known to train Maoist rebels in Nepal and India at camps in the jungles of India's eastern state of Bihar.

ULFA's growing links with Bangladeshi Islamists and jihadist elements in the area are increasingly coming to light. The April 9 attack timed with Singh's visit to Assam marked the group's first-ever suicide bombing, a tactic that was pioneered by the Tigers (a non-Islamist, majority Hindu group) and has been frequently employed by Islamist militants. Prior to the attack, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa warned that New Delhi's offer for unconditional peace talks was not acceptable, and that that ULFA cadres "have reached such a stage they would strap bombs on their chest and attack." ULFA's adoption of suicide bombing looks to be the result of the group's increased Islamization caused by collusion with Islamist outfits in the region. The bomber in the April 9 suicide attack was Ainul Ali, a Muslim. Indian security sources revealed that ULFA did not have many Muslim cadres in its fold in the past, but the increasing flow of Bangladeshi refugees across the border has given the group more -- and more capable -- members willing to sacrifice their lives for the group's cause with nudging from the ISI.

Collaboration between ULFA and the Islamist militants will expand further, as political conditions in Bangladesh appear to be indirectly contributing to the empowerment of Islamists there. Using the Pakistani military regime as an example, Bangladeshi army chief Lt. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed is reasserting the army's role in Bangladeshi politics -- which have long suffered from a bitter political feud between the family dynasties represented by the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Begum Khaleda Zia. With both party leaders driven into exile, a political vacuum has started to take root in the country, and Bangladesh's Islamist parties are anxiously waiting to fill it.

India will be taking note of these political developments in Dhaka, though there is not much New Delhi can or wants to do to intervene. As a result, New Delhi is facing a bleak situation in which the ISI's maneuvers and Bangladesh's political troubles are sure to further constrain India's ability to dig itself out of the militant trap Pakistan has set.[Stratfor]

Cartoon Speak: Pain & Relief

Courtesy: The Hindu

The Hindu on Brian Charles Lara

Cricket's last emperor

The timing of Brian Lara's retirement from international cricket is a wistful reminder that not all great sportspersons can exit on a high. In his prime, the left-handed genius — Test cricket's highest run-getter with 11,953 runs at 52.88 — was a glorious attacking batsman whose swift footwork, range of strokes, and courage placed him above all contemporary cricketers. Aesthetically, Lara's batting always had the power to elevate the senses. "I've come out there and tried to entertain," Lara said, summing up his approach to the game. "You have to remember that people pay to come through the turnstiles." An exceptional sportsman who upheld the finest traditions of the game, Lara chose to `walk' every single time he knew he had been dismissed fairly. His knocks were characterised by a fierce commitment to the team's cause. While he was susceptible early on, what set him apart was his ability to capitalise brilliantly on starts. Lara's penchant for steep scores — his 34 Test centuries include nine doubles and two triples — helped secure his reputation as the greatest match-winner of his generation. Wisden ranked his unbeaten 153 at Bridgetown, 1999, which took West Indies to a one-wicket win over Australia, as the second greatest innings in Test history — after Bradman's 270 against England in Melbourne, 1937. The only man to recapture the record for highest Test score — with knocks of 375 and then 400 not out, both against England, after Matthew Hayden posted 380 against Zimbabwe in the interregnum — Lara naturally holds the current record for the highest first class score (501 not out).

The first half of the 37-year old Trinidadian's international career was rich in spoils. It was also marked by inconsistency and punctuated by spells of rebelliousness, reflecting a confusion born of sudden stardom. It was a more sober Lara who made the effort to revitalise his career in a breakthrough series against Sri Lanka in 2001-2002 — accounting for an astonishing 42 per cent of his team's output in a three-Test series. By then West Indies cricket was in a state of terminal decline, making people wonder how such transcendental individual greatness could co-exist with such collective mediocrity. Lara's stints as captain were mostly unsuccessful. While he did spur the West Indies on to a spirited win in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England, his side's performance on home soil at the 2007 ICC World Cup has been mostly toothless. Given how far and fast Caribbean cricket has declined, and how quickly sports such as baseball and basketball have caught the imagination of young athletes in those islands in the sun, Lara may be the last of the giants. He will be missed by millions of cricket lovers.[The Hindu]

Apr 18, 2007

Educating Rahul Gandhi

A few truths for Rahul and a look at his future.

The desperation on Rahul Baba’s face is showing. After all he has to revive his moribund Party in the caste-ridden state of Uttar Pradesh if he and his family have to carry on their family business. Every other day Rahul Baba gives the praja of India lessons in Indian history. His first lesson was on the politics of Babri Masjid/Ram Mandir issue. According to him had a Gandhi been active in politics in 1992, the Babri Masjid wouldn’t have been demolished. Its hard to believe him after all that his Dad did to see the Mandir replace the Masjid. Or maybe he was right. But shouldn’t we also focus on why did the then PM late PV Narasimha Rao accept the then UP CM Kalyan Singh’s assurance of safeguarding the Masjid and didn’t proactively take steps to protect the Masjid by imposing president rule in UP?

Today looking back to those days then one way the demolition of the Masjid has been a blessing in disguise for the country. Let me explain.

In 1991 satellite television beamed live the Gulf War into our living rooms and thus the satellite television revolution hit India. Today India has the most number of satellite news channels who are constantly on the lookout for captivating news to drive their TRPs northwards. Just imagine the political capital the Sangh Parivar would have made year after year by holding public meetings in front of the Masjid where rabblerousing speeches are delivered with the Masjid being described as an eyesore standing on the birthplace of Lord Ram. Would the satellite new channels let go of an opportunity to drive their TRPs northwards by not telecasting the meetings? I am of the opinion that PVN foresaw the power of Satellite television and saved at least South India from Hindutva forces by his ‘inaction’ in December 1992. Today some states in the South are more than 80% cabled.

With the Masjid demolished the Sangh Parivar lost the object of hate they so loved to deride and use to whip up communal passions in otherwise sedate Hindu men and women. Moreover, the PVN govt had started to unshackle an economy that was chained up by the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty. A free market economy cannot succeed in an environment of strife and mayhem. IMO it is because of the demolition of the Masjid in 1992 that the BJP never crossed 190 Lok Sabha seats till today and thus was unable to turn rest of India into the lab of Hindutva as they had done to Gujarat. So if Rahul Baba’s Congress Party is ruling at the Center today, in a way he can thank late PVN for facilitating it by bottling the genie his Dad let out when he opened the locks of the Masjid and allowed Shilanyas thus legitimising BJP’s Ram Mandir Movement.

At Rahul Baba’s second teaching session the praja were subjected to a barrage of new theories on the freedom movement, Bangladesh liberation war, and India’s economic renaissance.

The arrogance emanating out of being born with a "power spoon" in his mouth is clearly evident in Rahul Baba statements. Someone tell him it is the Gujju Gandhi who is the father of this nation and not the Kashmiri Nehru who just happened to be Bapu’s favourite. Someone please tell Rahul Baba that Albert Einstein once wrote: “generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth" about the half-naked fakir. No one wrote anything like that about his great-grandfather.

Someone tell Rahul Baba that the British didn’t transfer India to the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty as their private jagir (estate). Millions of nameless Indians heeded the call of the Mahatma for nonviolent struggle against the British rule. Millions braved the lathis and bullets as they faced the mightiest empire on the planet. Others like Bagat Singh, Azad, Bose, etc felt this ideology was kaput and violent revolution was their chosen path to freedom. At the time of independence the Mahatma - whose word was sacrosanct in the INC - was adamant on making Nehru India’s first Prime Minister. This was the only reason why this country fell into the hands of the Nehru–Gandhi dynasty despite severe opposition in the INC itself to his candidature.

Then Rahul Baba’s next lesson was on how Indira Gandhi divided Pakistan. Someone please tell Rahul Baba that the liberation of Bangladesh and thus dismembering of Pakistan was not anything that was planned and executed by Indira Gandhi a la Musharraf’s Kargil fiasco. Even school kids know that Indira Gandhi only exploited Pakistan’s mishandling of the crisis in East Pakistan. With 93,000 Pakistani POWs and good chunks of West Pakistani territory in hand, Indira had another chance to correct her father’s biggest blunder but she being her father’s daughter lost what the Indian army had won on the battlefield on the negotiating table that too on a mere verbal promise by Bhutto. Rahul would like to remember that Indian Muslims he is assiduously trying too woo were never really for the creation of Bangladesh. With this claim he might have just pissed of those Muslims who were falling for his charms in the UP elections.

Now looking back, has interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs done any good to us? This mail in "The Hindu" is revealing:

It was a pyrrhic victory for India in the 1971 war if one considers its long-term consequences. Earlier, India had to deal with only one enemy whose eastern wing was its Achilles' heel. In 1971, it relieved the Pakistani military establishment of the onerous burden of safeguarding its east and enabled it to focus on Kashmir. We are now in an unenviable position of having to deal with independent but inimical states on both our flanks.[The Hindu]

On a lighter note today India would have been playing in the Cricket World Cup Super 8’s in the Windies if Bangladesh weren’t around.

Then Rahul Baba took lessons on India’s economy. Now this coming from someone who can’t even calculate correctly the average growth rate of India minus Uttar Pradesh is hard to digest. If only someone told this guy about the nearly irreparable damage done to this nation’s economy particularly to the economy of the BIMARU states by the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty’s retarded economic policies.

Rahul Gandhi’s Future

Now lets look at the Congress and Rahul’s future. The question is whether Rahul Gandhi can ever lead the Congress on its own or as part of a coalition to power and become India’s PM? I am of the firm view that never ever will a Gandhi from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty win a mandate and sit on the PM’s chair. Let me explain.

For sometime now the Congress has been steadily losing one vote bank after the other especially in the highly populated North India. Mandal and Mandir gifted the upper caste vote to the BJP. BSP took away the Dalit vote and a demolished Masjid gifted the Muslim vote to SP, BSP, RJD, etc.

As the Congress declined in the North, the ascendant BJP was inching closer to power at the Center with help of regional parties. BJP that had built its vote bank on the divisive Ram Mandir issue, just couldn’t fulfill its main promise of building a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya despite being in power for more than six years. Nor did it deliver on its other pet issues like Article 370, UCC, etc. Moreover, India’s most humiliating events occurred during BJP’s rule – the Kandahar humiliation, Parliament attack, etc. All these resulted in disillusionment among the upper castes who rejected the BJP in the general elections of 2004.

Another reason why BJP lost power in 2004 was because of the tactical voting by the Muslims who were undoubtedly rattled by the state sponsored Gujarat riots. Their only aim was to defeat BJP at any cost. In UP where the BJP was hoping to win 50-60 LS seats had to contend with 10 seats. The UP Muslims voted en bloc for the Samajwadi Party in order to defeat BJP.

In the state elections of 2003 BJP won a landslide in three of the four states not only because of the anti-incumbency factor but also because BSP had cut into Congress’s sizable Dalit vote in MP and Rajasthan resulting in Congress losing a large number of seats to the BJP.

Once BSP has the Dalit vote it never returns to Congress. This fact the Congress Party is yet to comprehend. The latest loss was in the Delhi Municipal elections where the BSP won 15 seats and due to vote cutting the Congress lost 60-65 seats to the BJP.Be it Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc the sizable Dalit vote is fast slipping out of the Congress hands and it has no strategy to contain the flow.

Right now the Congress Party is on a single-point agenda of reviving its Muslim vote bank so the person who humiliated Sonia Gandhi bites the dust in Uttar Pradesh. In its zeal to see Mulayam’s end, the Congress party had thrown the national interest to the wind. By appeasing Muslims at the cost of national interest and the OBCs at the cost of upper castes, it hope to take away Mulayam’s vote bank of Yadavs and Muslims. But poll signals emanating from UP and elsewhere is not supporting this. Rather, the Congress has lost seat after seat to BJP, BSP, SP, etc since 2004 general elections.

IMO the 2008 state elections will be the break or make election for the Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi in North India. If anti-incumbency can get Congress some votes then BSP will ensure Congress losing Dalit votes resulting in BJP’s return to power in Rajasthan and MP. Delhi is already out of Congress hands. The way things are in Chattisgarh the Congress has a chance there if they can exploit the tribal disillusionment.

Now coming to South India, Congress is still in the reckoning in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Pondicherry. In Tamil Nadu it has been reduced to BJP’s level in Andhra Pradesh.

In South India BJP has been able to make a mark only in Karnataka that too after flogging the divisive “Ayodhya of South” dispute.

In Andhra, BJP had to be content with the breadcrumbs thrown at them by the Telugu Desam Party. After the electorate voted out TDP mainly because of its support to BJP at the center even after Gujarat riots, the TDP has rightly cut all ties with BJP. It is only a matter of time before Chandrababu Naidu is back in power with the vote of all sections of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Now it is up to the Muslims of Andhra Pradesh not to play into the hands of Sanghis by indulging in stupid anti-national/pan-islam activities. We need peace in Andhra Pradesh to realise the vision of Chandrababu Naidu at a faster pace.

The rest of South Indian Muslims too should realise that the BJP can only grow in South India if they can find any communal situation to exploit and it is up to them not to create any such situation. After fifteen years of economic liberalisation, South India has emerged as the economic powerhouse of India. Lets take this chance and prosper together.

Looking forward to 2009 general elections, the Congress with its Muslim/OBC-appeasing agenda having driven the upper-castes back into BJP’s hands and with no clue on how to handle the economy, which in turn is driving the rest of its vote bank away will find it a Herculean task to win even 25 seats in North India. In South, West and NE India the picture in 2009 will be equally bleak due to the anti-incumbency factor in TN, AP, Assam, Maharashtra and Pondicherry, etc

It remains to be seen whether the present PM Manmohan Singh will be replaced with Rahul Gandhi anytime during the remaining tenure of the UPA govt. Other than that there is no way Rahul Gandhi will ever become India’s PM.

If Mayawati is able to provide a credible alternative to the Congress and the BJP in 2009, IMO many regional parties that are supporting the Congress or BJP today will be open to ally with BSP with Behenji as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

Apr 12, 2007

Kendo - Pakistani Version

In the above photograph the Pakistani version of the Japanese martial art of fencing is depicted. In Pakistan this is martial art is practised exclusively by women.

In this photograph the original version of Kendo as practised by the Japanese is shown.

Apr 10, 2007

Killer of Giants

What else can we call this Bangladesh cricket team?

With India out of the World Cup I was finding it hard to watch or enjoy any of the matches. As I wrote earlier due to India’s early exit, I am supporting Sri Lanka but not that wholeheartedly. Then Saturday’s Bangladesh-South Africa match changed all that. Now after seeing how the
tiger cubs mauled the then #1 team, I too have become a fan of this Bangladeshi team and I am pretty excited about the World Cup now as the fight for the semi-final berths is up for grabs. I have forgiven them for throwing us out of the World Cup and now looking forward to see Bangladesh’s remaining matches and their possible giant killing acts. I also hope to stay up late till the matches end. Bangladesh’s next possible victims are England, WI and Scotland. The best news for the Bangla team is that these teams are not playing well and this gives the Bangladesh team a real chance to win all three matches and find a place in the semis. And if they find anyone else other than Australia in the semis then they have a real chance of playing the finals.

India tours Bangladesh next. Before the World Cup, for India this was a “good for nothing” tour – just good to give the ‘minnows’ some fielding practice. Now with India yet to realise what hit them when they played Bangladesh in the World Cup, will surely want to save further embarrassment. For this, the Board is thinking of axing some senior players so the average age of the Indian team will match the average age of the Bangla team, which is 24. Now even if India is mauled by the tiger cubs at least there wont be any embarrassment. But I hope the so-called minnows trash our team like trash so that we learn some hard lessons. First of all we should learn not to treat anyone like trash. Second, never take any team lightly. Third, always keep up-to-date with the minnows’ progress.

With the coach’s place falling vacant following Chappell’s resignation Dav Whatmore whose term with the Bangladesh team is ending has
expressed a desire to take up the lucrative and ‘prestigious’ job of coaching India. He is undoubtedly the perfect choice available right now. The wonders Whatmore has done with Sri Lanka first and now with this Bangladesh team is there for all of us to see. However, I think - for the good of world cricket - he should be with the Bangladesh team for a couple of years more so that he can transform them into a world beating team on a consistent basis. After that we can consider hiring him if he is still interested.

I am very much dejected and angry by India’s abject capitulation in the World Cup especially against Bangladesh. But after some introspection I am glad they trashed us in every department of the game that day and thereby make us look inward for a moment and realise where we stand in terms of being a Cricketing power and I thank those tiger cubs for that.

Next Level in ULFA's Terror Campaign

Stratfor is of the view that the April 8th bomb explosion near PM Manmohan Singh’s motorcade route in Assam could indicate the next level in ULFA’s “liberation struggle”. Stratfor writes, “Although the explosion appears to have been premature, it strongly suggests the ULFA is expanding its targeting criteria to include national figures. Moreover, this could have been the group's first suicide bombing.”

It is possible the bomber was planning to place the device along the motorcade route when he collided with the autorickshaw. However, there also is reason to believe this was the first suicide attack staged by the ULFA. In March, ULFA chairperson Arabinda Rajkhowa hinted in an e-mailed statement that the group was ready to conduct suicide attacks, saying members have reached the stage in which "they would strap bombs on their chest and attack." If this incident was indeed a premature suicide bombing, it would indicate the group has added a powerful new weapon to its arsenal.

...ULFA, however, also is a powerful, profit-generating entity, deriving much of its income from protection and extortion rackets and other illegal activities.

As in the past, the ULFA rejected the Assam government's latest offer to hold unconditional peace talks. Moreover, given that the ULFA has been known to carry out provocative attacks in response to such offers of talks, an attack near Singh's motorcade might have been meant to derail any chance of negotiations. With lucrative enterprises involved, the group's leadership has a strong incentive to sustain the militant front for business purposes.

If this was a suicide attack, the ULFA could have gotten the inspiration from Islamist groups in Bangladesh or the Sri Lankan separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The ULFA, which wields influence in Bangladesh through its considerable financial resources, could have obtained the services of a suicide bomber or bombmakers from Islamist groups in that country. The ULFA also has established ties with the Tigers, whose campaign against the Sri Lankan government has long included the use of suicide bombers, many of whom have used motorcycles to stage their attacks. However, the ULFA's limited experience in constructing suicide bombs as well as poor workmanship or design on the part of the bombmaker might have led to the premature detonation.

ULFA has assassinated state officials in Assam before, but this apparently was its first attempt against the prime minister, which indicates an escalation in the group's targeting criteria.[Stratfor]

One of the militants killed during the explosion was identified as Ainul Ali. He was the one carrying the bomb. ULFA members are basically Hindu upper-caste. This Muslim guy could be one of those hired by ULFA from Bangladeshi Islamist groups.

Apr 7, 2007

Afghanistan: Time for India to Revamp Ties With the Northern Alliance

Of late the Afghan government headed by President Hamid Karzai has come under increased pressure to negotiate with the Taliban. Anti-Taliban elements also have established a new political group, indicating another move toward reintegrating segments of the Taliban into the Afghan government. Kabul's move to engage the pragmatists in the Pashtun jihadist movement has had an unsettling effect, both within the ranks of the Taliban and among their Tajik-led rivals.

Stratfor predicts that it is unlikely that President Hamid Karzai will be able to balance these two forces, and his own government could be overwhelmed by a new north-south fault line. This means it is time for India to revamp old ties with the
Northern Alliance.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said April 6 that he and other government officials have been in contact with Taliban representatives for some time. This announcement -- a bow to increasing pressure to work with the jihadists -- comes a day after Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former ambassador of the ousted Taliban regime, criticized Kabul's negotiations with moderate Taliban, calling the talks a "conspiracy" designed to sow dissent within the ranks of the Pashtun jihadist movement.

Meanwhile, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani -- a Tajik Islamist -- announced April 3 the launch of a new political coalition called the United National Front. In addition to former communists, this group includes former mujahideen who participated in the 1979-89 fight against Soviet forces, the 1992-96 intra-Islamist civil war and the 1996-2001 struggle against the Taliban regime.

Some of the more prominent figures in this new group are former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Parliament Speaker Younis Qanooni and Prince Mustafa Zahir, the grandson of ailing former King Mohammad Zahir Shah. One of the group's key goals is to amend the 2003 constitution to allow for proportional representation in parliament, and to create a prime minister position.

These Tajik-led, mostly northern forces have watched the resurgence of the Taliban over the last few years, as well as the government's intense struggle to contain them. They understand that Kabul's renewed efforts to rein in the insurgency via negotiations eventually will lead to the empowerment of the majority Pashtun community, since the Taliban constitute the only potent political force among the Pashtuns.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime, the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other opponents of the Pashtun jihadists have been content with Karzai's weakness -- and, by extension, the weakness of the Pashtun community. This has allowed them to consolidate their hold in their respective regions and gain a share of the national pie. But now that weakness is becoming a liability for these northerners, given that an enfeebled central government cannot act as a secure buffer between them and the Taliban in the country's south. Hence, they are moving to galvanize their ranks and erect legal and constitutional barriers to counter a revived Pashtun presence in the south and in Kabul.

These old Taliban enemies are not the only ones concerned about Kabul's moves to re-engage Taliban fighters. The Taliban themselves also are worried that recent offers of talks and a share in the government will cause fissures in their ranks, which already are divided. Moreover, Karzai is not the only one pushing for negotiations; this discussion is taking place even within government circles in NATO member states such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and others.

There increasingly is evidence that the Taliban have realized that they cannot expect to dominate Afghanistan again like they did during 1996-2001, when they extended their writ almost to the country's northern border with Tajikistan. Despite former Taliban ambassador Zaeef's April 5 criticism of the government's actions, he also said that the problem is not Karzai or his government. "The problem is with foreigners," he added, "and [the Taliban] are fighting them and [calling] their war a freedom fight." This statement represents a slow movement on the part of the Taliban away from the rhetoric that Karzai's regime is illegitimate and must be defeated.

In other words, we are seeing the re-creation of Afghanistan's north-south divide. Even more problematic from a stability point of view, the Karzai regime likely will not be able to balance these two forces, and the government could be the first casualty of a new war between the Pashtun majority and the Tajik-led minorities.[Stratfor]

A Musharraf-Bhutto Deal in the Offing?

With Musharraf ordering the winding up of an anti-corruption cell that was dealing with cases against Benazir Bhutto and her husband, speculation is rife about a potential deal between the two.

The increasing domestic political instability due to Pakistan's ongoing legal crisis has forced President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to accelerate back-channel dealings with the main opposition group, the Pakistan Peoples' Party Parliamentarians (PPP-P), led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf's dire need to gain control of the jihadists could bring the president and Bhutto closer to an agreement, especially given that they are more or less on the same ideological page regarding Islamism and jihadism.

The two have been holding behind-the-scenes talks for almost three years. One of the reasons these discussions have produced no results is that accepting a president in uniform would be a deadly political blow for the PPP-P, which stands to lose its support should it go against its historic role as the anti-establishment political party. The party also does not want a deal under which it merely replaces Musharraf's main civilian ally, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

In other words, PPP-P is looking for a certain degree of power. However, Musharraf is only working with the party in order to secure his own political position. Hence, a deal that undercuts his authority is a nonstarter -- something Bhutto knows well.

The former prime minister also understands that, just as Musharraf needs her to help sustain his hold on power, she must work out a deal with him in order to stage a political comeback. This means each will have to compromise. While the idea of Musharraf remaining military chief is unthinkable for the PPP-P, a deal under which Musharraf retains a considerable degree of power as the civilian president and Bhutto serves as prime minister -- with more authority than the current prime minister enjoys -- might be acceptable.

While Musharraf will not want to give up his position as military chief -- the source of his strength -- the political crisis in the country has made it clear that clinging to this title could weaken his hold on power.

Given what is at stake for both sides, a deal under which Musharraf -- as a civilian president -- acts as a balancing force between parliament and the military is not out of the question. In the past, Bhutto and her PPP-P have headed governments in which the military had oversight over the civilian administration and the civilian president had the power to dismiss the Cabinet and parliament. A slightly altered version of this, wherein a PPP-P-led government exercises more power than it has during its last two stints in office, is possible.

There obviously are many details that still need to be worked out; most important is what will happen to the ruling PML if Musharraf and the PPP-P strike a deal -- an issue Stratfor first discussed some two years ago. While the country's growing political and security instability has forced Musharraf and the PPP-P to become more pragmatic, it has done the same for the PML.

The party, which has opposed a Musharraf-Bhutto deal for fear of losing its political position, now is entertaining the idea of forming a coalition government with the PPP-P and other like-minded groups -- along the lines of the left-center-right governments in Germany and Israel. It is too early to say whether such a deal can be worked out, especially given the number of moving parts on Pakistan's domestic political scene.

But it is certain that -- regardless of such a coalition's configuration -- Washington would certainly favor an option that unites the establishment and the mainstream opposition. From the U.S. point of view, such a setup would balance the need for change with the need to maintain continuity, and hopefully allow the country to move past the current crisis and focus on fighting the jihadists.[Stratfor]

Stratfor's 2007 Second Quarter Forecast

Here is Stratfor's 2007 second quarter forecast for South Asia, East Asia and the Global Economy.

South Asia: Domestic Issues, the Taliban and Musharraf's Struggle

The annual forecast for 2007 emphasized that Pakistani politics would be the most significant driver in South Asia, as Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's political standing would carry implications for the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. This issue will remain dominant in the region in the second quarter.

Musharraf has devised a complex strategy to ensure that he remains in power as president and military chief through the January 2008 general elections. But his election gambit took a turn for the worse in March when he acted on bad advice and gave the green light to sack the country's chief justice. Though Musharraf's intent was to clear a potential obstacle to his re-election bid, he sparked a nationwide outcry against the military-dominated regime that has forced him into a compromising situation that will end up forcing him to give up a certain degree of power.

Musharraf will be in damage-control mode during the second quarter, and could attempt to temporarily defuse the crisis by restoring the chief justice. Such an outcome, however, will only further erode Musharraf's ability to rule, and would create a crisis of governance.

Meanwhile, radical Islamist forces in the country will take advantage of the political fracas to increase suicide attacks and expand their efforts to "Talibanize" Pakistan beyond the Pashtun areas. Given Musharraf's weak political standing, the Pakistani government's cautious approach will not thwart the growing radical movement. To salvage his political position and help combat religious extremism in the country, Musharraf might have no choice but to encourage his allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League to consider working out a power-sharing agreement with secular parties in the opposition, namely the Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians.

The United States will watch these developments in Pakistan closely, and will give Musharraf some breathing room while he attempts to sort out problems at home. Washington has an interest in ensuring that Musharraf maintains a hold on power and that the military remains at the helm, even if concessions need to be made to the civilian opposition parties.

Taliban activity in Afghanistan will intensify this spring, with a heavy emphasis on suicide attacks against Afghan and NATO forces. A coordinated campaign by Taliban and al Qaeda militants also appears to be under way, in which motorcades carrying high-value military or intelligence officials are singled out. NATO and Afghan forces will mount a strong counteroffensive, making this quarter a particularly bloody one.

The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and its NATO allies will focus on their hunt for pragmatic Taliban in an effort to undercut the jihadist insurgency. This will involve negotiating via tribal elders across the Pashtun areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, reaching out to Hizb-i-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and driving a wedge between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and the Taliban elements allied to the Mullah Omar-based leadership, which has close links to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

In India, domestic political and social issues continue to absorb the government's attention. The ruling Congress party is struggling to maintain a populist attitude toward India's lower classes while appeasing Indian corporate interests. This balancing act has left both sides unsatisfied and has provided the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party an opening to advance itself. Congress' hold on the central government will not be seriously threatened in the second quarter, but the party will have to rely heavily on populist measures to win back support.

A hot issue over the next few months will center on the creation of additional special economic zones (SEZs) throughout India. Impoverished farmers backed by vociferous leftist groups will intensify their resistance to the SEZs' creation. Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, will try to take advantage of the tensions stemming from the government's bid to acquire farmers' lands for the SEZs by intensifying their operations against security, political and economic targets in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

India also will pay closer attention to its southern neighbor, where the Sri Lankan army is engaged in major tit-for-tat fighting against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Colombo will lobby hard for increased military assistance and advanced radar equipment to combat the Tigers, but the Congress party will remain cautious about enhancing Sri Lanka's military capabilities for fear of alienating the Indian Tamil population and the party's Tamil political allies. The Tigers will attempt to resist Sri Lanka's aerial assaults in their eastern strongholds by turning to more spectacular attacks, including suicide bombings, and by demonstrating the expansion of their naval and air branches.

In Nepal, the interim government and Maoists will limp toward finalizing a peace deal that will allow the Maoists to formally enter the government and erode the royal family's political position. Though general elections are slated for mid-June, there is a strong possibility that they will not take place on time considering the deteriorating law and order situation in the southern plains of Terai, where Maoists and a group of plains people, known as Madhesis, are locked in turmoil.

East Asia: Continuing to Look Inward

Stratfor's annual forecast noted that 2007 would be a year for East Asia to look inward, focusing on domestic and regional issues -- with the regional rivalry between China and Japan growing prominent as the year played out. In the first quarter, this trend manifested itself in several ways.

The region's central governments continued to grow more powerful, especially in China, where Beijing tightened control over regional and local governments. The latest Communist Party secretary appointments undoubtedly strengthened Chinese President Hu Jintao's hold over the provincial and city leadership while consolidating Beijing's economic rule. Thailand's military regime also started planning to permanently reinsert itself into the country's political landscape. Regional geopolitical insecurity drove Beijing to undertake its January anti-satellite missile test, which was intended to warn the United States that although China said it would not "undertake military adventures in 2007," it also would not sit idly by should Taiwan attempt to push for formal independence on the eve of the 2008 Olympics.

Mirroring China, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian continued to push for independence in an effort to prevent Taiwan from becoming irrelevant within the region. Unexpected financial turbulence shook global markets when the Shanghai stock market dipped in March, sending ripples around the world. Fundamentals changed little afterward, however, as the ripples did not stem from any real change in China's economic structure; psychologically, though, China's capacity for global financial effects is in a new spotlight.

Domestic political consolidation and constitutional change are still the key domestic policy drivers in Japan and South Korea. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is continuing to push for change for Japan's Constitution and defense structure, such as elevating the Defense Agency to a ministry and expanding defense cooperation with Australia. South Korea's ruling minority Uri Party split from President Roh Moo Hyun to clean house and select its presidential candidate, freeing up Roh to push through changes to the country's fundamentally diseased constitutional structure.

As we head into the second quarter, two dominant themes will drive events in East Asia: countries' introspection as they are consumed by internal elections and politicking, and intraregional nuclear discussions and economic interactions. Other possible factors are the emergence of a new trilateral Japanese-Australian-U.S. security arrangement and success for Taiwan's Chen in his efforts to provoke China. Probabilities for the former are nearly certain, and those for the latter are unknown.

Thailand is due for a new draft constitution April 19, which likely will enshrine the military's role in government, though not by including a clause for an "unelected prime minister" as previously suggested by the military chief. This will more likely happen via more subtle clauses designed to insert military representation throughout the central and provincial government departments. If the opposition uses this draft to generate a massive groundswell of anti-military sentiment, the regime's ability to retain control with minimal violence will be tested. The regime will continue to enhance its skills in balancing the country's different factions. The usual cycle of violence in the south will continue.

This quarter will see more Chinese political reshuffling to smooth the path for the country's fifth generation of leaders -- a process to be completed by 2012. Hu will move more of his chosen successors into place for final training before promotion to the Politburo, which likely will occur at the Party Congress this fall. Shanghai will be used as a new training ground for Hu protege Xi Jinping -- who recently was promoted to become the city's party secretary -- and also as a regional showcase of what local governments must do to avoid a crackdown. More responsibility for economic reforms will be shifted to private and foreign investors, with industries previously considered "too strategic" (such as oil and health care) being released from the state's iron grip. The new foreign exchange investment company could be established this quarter in order to kickstart an outward flow of renminbi-denominated investment funds. China needs to continue pushing investors to send their appreciating local currencies overseas in order to rein in an excess supply of money inside the country -- a root cause of the economy's imbalanced growth.

The first stage of the six-party nuclear deal is set for completion April 14, when North Korea closes its Yongbyon reactor. Each party will use minor reasons to delay progress in order to pursue its own agenda, but progress should still continue, with or without directly addressing North Korea's existing nuclear weapons.

This quarter kicked off with a successful conclusion to the South Korean-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) talks. A flurry of intraregional interactions now will descend upon East Asia, with South Korea likely to speed up efforts to make similar agreements with the European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council states and China. Another deal worth watching is the Australian-Japanese FTA talks starting April 23, which could shed more light on the new regional trilateral security arrangement. For the rest of East Asia, FTAs and economics will be the main channel through which bargaining chips are dealt and exchanged in return for progression on other economic and political issues. Talk of a regional FTA might even resurface.

The structure of East Asia's new trilateral security arrangement will emerge, as the lines of military cooperation and interdependencies between Japan, Australia and the United States gradually take shape. China and Japan will continue a flow of positive diplomatic rhetoric and superficial actions, but remain fundamentally distrustful of each other. China will try to use its economic leverage with Australia to influence or gain additional insights into the new arrangement being established in its backyard. While still preoccupied in the Middle East, the United States will not explicitly target China, but the new security arrangement is intended to indicate where Washington's attention will next settle.

Taiwan's Chen already has swapped out his country's representative to the United States and convinced the Democratic Progressive Party to propose the formal abandonment of the "Five Nos" policy. Although he is constrained in his push for constitutional change, Chen's ultimate goal is to reshape both the domestic and international perceptions of Taiwan. With Beijing preparing to host the 2008 Olympics, Chen sees this as his opportunity to rile China with his "provocative" comments and acts. Either he will prod China into lashing out -- thus proving his point that China is the real threat to regional security -- or China will simply ignore Chen's actions, giving him proof for the Taiwanese people that Beijing's threats are hollow and that Taiwan should formally pursue its own national identity and independence. Either way, Taiwan will become a key driver of regional security attention and arrangements.

Global Economy: Short-Term Shakiness, But No Recession

Stratfor expects that the irrationalities introduced by the past six years of rapid economic growth could trigger a shakedown in the U.S. economy that will stop shy of an actual recession. By the end of the second quarter, however, the United States will have dodged the bullet and should be surging ahead. The quarter could even end with the rest of the world wobbling as the United States climbs, but this too likely will pass.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States does not exist in isolation. From 1945 to 1985, very little of the U.S. economy was locked up in international trade, so when the United States suffered a recession, that recession's effect on the rest of the world was rather limited. As time rolled on, however -- and certainly by the late 1990s -- the United States became more involved, and now trade is just over 25 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). In relative terms, that is still rather little (Germany's trade is more than 70 percent of its GDP), but in absolute terms it represents about $3 trillion annually.

In practical terms, the U.S. economy has become the global economy's market of first and last resort. Consequently, to paraphrase Wall Street investors, when the United States sneezes, the world catches a cold. Before the United States became so exposed, a U.S. recession meant money fled abroad. Now, however, since much of the rest of the world depends on U.S. markets, economic troubles in the United States directly translate into economic problems in the countries that like to sell to the United States.

So U.S. economic troubles still lead to capital flight, but now that flight is to the United States instead of from it. One result of this is that recessions are extremely short and mild in the United States. (Witness the brief, shallow recessions of 1990-1991 and 2001 -- the only recessions the United States has suffered in the past 25 years.) The one saving grace for the rest of the world -- and it is a huge one -- is that, compared to what it was in 1990, domestic consumption in the developing world (including China) and in Europe has expanded greatly.

While the United States certainly is the system's center, the rest of the system has sufficient bulk to self-ballast. So though a U.S. slowdown still causes more problems overseas than it does in the United States, it is hardly tantamount to an economic death sentence.

Overall, the economic volatility of the first quarter will intensify in the second, but by the time we reach the third, the United States will have pulled through. Once that happens, confidence should leak back into the rest of the global system and short-circuit a similar slowdown before it can do any serious damage.

However, there are two outliers to note.

First, U.S. economists are concerned about faltering subprime mortgage markets. To make an incredibly complex story simple, subprime mortgages are granted to people whose credit is not strong enough to qualify for a mortgage under normal circumstances. The specific part of the market that is suffering are those subprime lenders who have taken on variable-rate mortgages, which lock in an extraordinarily low rate -- allowing almost anyone to qualify because of the low payments that result -- but then force a later refinancing at normal rates, typically five years hence. These subprime variable-rate mortgages were first offered en masse five years ago. Now it is time to pay the piper, and many cannot. The good news is that of a total U.S. mortgage market of $10 trillion, the entire subprime market -- and many of these will not go bad -- is "only" worth about $650 billion. The bad news is that this sort of irresponsible mortgage has been given out for five years now, which means more mortgages are guaranteed to go bad. The impact is small, but the tailwind is now locked into the system for the next five years.

Second, there are two states where additional economic problems could crop up in the second quarter. The first, Japan, is the only country where domestic demand continues to underperform, making it perennially vulnerable to international economic downdrafts. Fresh statistics also indicate that deflation -- once thought defeated -- has returned. The second state, Germany, is struggling to slough off a decade of subpar growth. To balance its budget, Germany raised its consumption tax by 3 percent in the first quarter -- a step that, while fiscally sound, risks the recent progress Germany has made resuscitating its economy.

Of the two, we are more hopeful for Germany, where growth -- and confidence -- is better entrenched.[Stratfor]

Some Habits Die Hard

For the United States hobnobbing with Islamist terrorists is one of them.

It seems the adage once bitten twice shy just doesn’t apply to the United States of America. Within three years of the US being the victim of the most spectacular terrorist attacks ever - inflicted upon it by none other than its former protégé Osama bin Laden - USA is back hobnobbing with Islamist terrorists.

This time the US is using a Pakistani tribal militant group called Jundullah to undermine Iran’s sovereignty. Stratfor notes that these ‘activities’ serve as a poking device for the United States to use against Iran in the diplomatic tango over Iraq.

The group's origins are murky, but it appears to have surfaced in 2003 under the leadership of a 23-year-old Sunni ethnic Balochi who goes by the name Abdolmalek Righi. Jundallah, or "Soldiers of God," is not to be confused with the more jihadist-oriented Pakistani group by the same name that was responsible for the 2004 attack against Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's deputy.

The Jundallah that is active in Iran is an ethno-nationalist insurgent group with an Islamist bent. Its campaign is directed against the Iranian clerical regime for suppressing Iran's impoverished Balochi minority, who are concentrated in the lawless Sistan-Balochistan province in southeastern Iran, where the Afghan, Pakistani and Iranian borders meet.

Jundallah's activities have picked up during the past two years. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and kidnappings of Iranian security forces and officials, the most recent and prominent attack being a Feb. 14 bus bombing that killed 11 members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The group's young leader has mounted a strong media campaign, in which he regularly condemns the Iranian regime and claims responsibility for attacks via Internet statements. In fact, Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. government agency, aired a live phone interview with Righi on its Persian-language service April 1, introducing him as the "leader of the Iranian people's resistance movement." VOA's decision to provide Righi a platform to air Balochi grievances has raised further suspicions about U.S. involvement with the group.

The United States has a variety of minority groups to rely on to stir up trouble in the Islamic republic, including the exiled Mujahideen e-Khalq (which largely came under U.S. control at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq war), Ahvazi Arabs in Iran's southwest and Kurds in its northwest. Jundallah's campaign in Sistan-Balochistan falls in line with U.S. efforts to ramp up support for oppressed Iranian minority groups in an attempt to push the Iranian regime toward a negotiated settlement over Iraq.

The Pakistani connection, however, is more elusive. Pakistan has its own raging Balochi insurgency to deal with, and is not interested in supporting a Balochi insurgent group across the border with the capability to kidnap and kill members of the IRGC. Moreover, the Pakistanis know they must tread carefully in their dealings with Tehran, particularly as Iran is already wary of repercussions of Washington's close relationship with Islamabad.

That said, Pakistan could have worked out an arrangement with the United States to turn a blind eye to covert U.S. forces in Pakistan working with Jundallah. The Pakistani sources cited in the ABC report also said Righi formerly worked for the Taliban, though both Pakistani and Iranian officials are prone to classify the Balochi groups as al Qaeda-linked terror organizations for their respective political purposes. The porous borders in the region are highly conducive to drug smuggling, however, so Righi's group likely has contacts with a variety of militants through these operations.

U.S. support for Jundallah fits into the larger picture of U.S.-Iranian negotiations over Iraq. Iran has made painfully clear that it has -- and can use -- a variety of militant assets throughout the region to pressure Washington to meets its demands in Iraq. At the same time, the United States has an interest in demonstrating that it has friends among Iran's minority groups to gather intelligence, stir up public unrest and distract the clerical regime from its Iraqi agenda.

This type of covert activity fits into a complex blend of negotiating tactics, including military posturing, risky maneuvers and occasional conciliatory gestures designed to get the other side to bend. For the United States to run a more effective, coordinated campaign inside Iran, however, it will need to demonstrate it can alternate action among the Iranian mix of minority groups. Only then can Washington unnerve the Iranians enough to cause serious worries about potential leaks in their system, and thus enhance the U.S. bargaining position.[Stratfor]