September 5, 2013

Petroleum Jelly

'Writing' this on the back of yet another fuel price hike. I must also apologize to any readers who find this post (and some of my previous blog posts) annoying with my near continuous Iranian a** kissing. Also, my views on what the foreign policy should be like is meant to reflect how it can ease the lives of 1.3 billion of the world's populace. It is not meant to be anti-American but if you want to construe it that way, then, too damn bad.
I don't think the babus in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) realize how much influence they actually wield over the Indian economy. With the sharp rise in the value of the dollar, we are getting much less oil for the same amount of rupees spent. Sure enough, the government has upped it's import of oil from Iran who are willing to deal with us in rupees. Which is more of a reactionary decision. Imports should have been scaled up even before the rupee started sinking or at least after sure signs that the economy had stalled. What the government and RBI are doing is waiting for impact before making a course correction when they should be making course correction (of the economy) to avoid impact. 
Despite this belated measure, Iran still ranks third in the number of barrels imported. Why STILL third? Iran should by far be number one in our current economic situation. This half-hearted measure by the UPA government to reduce the dependency on USD is only a weak attempt to keep the value of rupee stable and the value of oil steady. Our imports from Iraq and Kuwait which are in USD should be reduced drastically (I don't think cutting imports altogether is a good idea). Either they deal with us in rupees or bow to US pressure to deal only in USD with us. Until the former happens, we should lean more on Iran. This would reduce fuel prices in India in the near term and even bolster the currency due to demand even if it is from a singular source (albeit significant).
I do realize the major sticking point here would be relying largely on a single source (for crude) to run our economic engine. Which is never a good idea. This would also be a good time to reach out to other countries like Venezuela and Myanmar - the Bolivarian state for its super rich oil fields and Myanmar for natural gas. It's easy to channel gas from the neighbouring country assuming our government cares enough to reach out to them. Venezuela has had it's oil exports reduce mainly due to the US relying more on shale and the Middle East. This could be an opportunity for India here. It could theoretically be possible to deal in rupees with Venezuela as US would have no sway in a deal with them. This could increase the security of oil imports by not relying on one country alone. Logistically speaking, the viability of dealing with Venezuela could be bothersome on account of the distances involved. But, sea transport is cheap and I won't believe it is impossible to trade on account of distance. The MEA has in recent months improved its vision on diplomacy and the role India must play globally (I'll wax lyrical about that later). Question is, will it assume the latent responsibility of playing an active role in the Indian economy by means of it's overseas activities? Time will tell. But lets hope its not too late.

August 15, 2013

All about biryani

It is again that time in the current government's calender that we re-engage high level talks with Pakistan. And splat! Right in the face of every Indian is the not so humble pie by the Pakistani Army. The blood of five jawans ambushed on the Indian side of the LOC is what we are left with. One can argue it was not the army but extremists running loose in Pakistan. But this is hardly convincing and it is not an argument that absolves Pakistan. Instead it places more question marks on the efficacy of it's government.

In this current backdrop, must the Indian government call off the high level prime ministerial level talks scheduled in the UN next month? The main opposition party definitely thinks so and want the ruling government to take to task the neighbours for this. While the government decides what to do exactly and not appear divided on this issue, the rest of the country rages on with debate - to talk or not. An overwhelming majority of the population will say nay to talks and yay to shoot. Is that really the right option for us to take?

What needs to percolate through our parliamentarians is - why would Pakistan violate the ceasefire agreement, incessantly, just before the prime ministers of the two countries are to meet? It is important to answer this question objectively. Which is difficult. I am sure most of us experience an emotional rush of anger and patriotism whenever there is a skirmish on the border. But we, and most importantly, our government should not respond in the same primitive manner. Not at least before some thought.

I think it is also in the interest of Pakistan that they come to the table. At least they want to. Nawaz Sharif has clearly reiterated that he wants 'the talk' at the UN and is looking forward to it. The question is, should Manmonhan Singh have biryani with Sharif in NYC? He must. For one, pushing down the peace process is not in the interest of either of us. Continued tension on the border will bleed the countries' economy and military. If we can somehow kiss and make up, the problem of dealing with extremists in Kashmir and in Pakistan can also be dealt with - together. Sounds too far fetched for this to happen. Cause, even if we decide to restart the peace process, it is doomed to stall in the start line itself.

Why the peace talks will stall if not fail -
Speaking of the main reason - Kashmir - Indians do not ever want to let go of it. Kashmir is and always has been an integral part of India. That means, Pakistan vacating the illegally occupied part of it will be the main precondition for us to resume talks from ground zero. No Indian government will consider the current demarcation of Kashmir as ground zero for talks. This, Pakistan will not accept. Although I believe there are ways we can arm twist Pakistan to accept our precondition (more on that later). Strike 1.

Secondly, every time the diplomatic process is started, we hand to Pakistan a dossier with the names of the most wanted Pakistani terrorists residing in Pakistan to be handed over to India. Plainly they are not going to do it. And I understand that. Would Russia hand over their citizens to America for crimes committed on American soil and vice versa? Ha! But the best we can do is to pressure the Pakistani government to prosecute them and justice be served there itself. Herein lies the difficulty. Pakistan does not acknowledge the existence of those extremists within their territory or even if it does, has not found them guilty much to our chagrin. Prime examples - Hafiz Saeed & Dawood Ibrahim. Strike 2.

And lastly, failure of confidence building measures. Or more appropriately, the constant 'resetting' of CBMs every time an ugly incident happens like the 2008 Mumbai attacks or every time there is a government change in Pakistan. No number of bus services to and from Pakistan will be useful to tackle the situation in hand. The same goes with cricket matches. Trade has always been stop-start, never really taking off and realizing it's full potential. Trading with neighbours is easier and more beneficial than exporting to countries farther away, but the prevailing political environment is flushing trade down the drain. Coupled with mutual distrust/hatred, every effort to step forward is herculean. Strike 3. Out.

Therefore the ultimate question is - why even talk if the whole process is doomed anyway? If both countries want lasting peace and stability, Kashmir would have been resolved. Which in-turn would mean normalization of trade, no extremism and cricket! I think deep down both of us know why. That is the reason relations between the two are not really moving in the 'positive direction'. Because we don't have a positive direction. Neither of us have aces in our cards - yet. That is why we maintain status quo and hope things don't turn for the worse. 

August 14, 2012

Point Wise

Back in high school, I vividly remember my instructors asking us to answer essay questions in the final exams 'point wise'. I hated it. Here's why we had to stick to this protocol -

1) Their train of thought was only one sentence long.
2) More then one full stop in a paragraph is like having to actually stop at a stop sign, which is annoying.
3) Any sentence with more than one difficult word is deemed unacceptable due to inherent pigheadedness.
4) English was meant to be spoken and written 'point wise'.
5) The number of points will be directly proportional to the knowledge you actually possess. A higher number will be perceived as more insightful and vice-versa.
6) Drawing figures is mandatory between a few points. Apparently reading is a strenuous task. That means random graphs which are well labeled and flow charts with arrows pointing in different directions generally indicate a linear progression of your answer: however nonsensical it may be.
7) The initial third and final third of all the points serve as prologue and epilogue.
8) A poor final third may not dash your answer to bits but a poor prologue definitely will. Refer to point 1 for an explanation for this phenomena.
9) The higher the number of points, the better the odds of scoring high. The corollary for this is also true.

The interesting thing in this totally pointless write up is that we, as conniving students know with our infinite wisdom how to counter this 'points' scheme. Here's how -

1) Increase the font of your handwriting. Increase the spacing between each word and maintain that consistency. This will bulk up the volume of the answer. Remember the motto - more fluff, less stuff.
2) Ensure that the initial third of the points are written neatly. If you know calligraphy, use the weapon.
3) A steady regression of handwriting is ok. The farther along we are in the scheme of points, the lesser likely that it will be analyzed.
5) Skip a number. Do not over use this tactic. You will not be able to convince people that you can count only even numbers.
6) Ensure the length of your answer by writing about your little toe and how you can wiggle it independent of other toes.
7) You will be considered god-like if you can slip in the script of a movie in the answer. But beware, if caught,  you are screwed.
8) Reduce the writing area available by boxing in the page with your own margins.
And etc. etc.

Please leave your comments 'point wise'. Else, you risk your comment being ignored to oblivion.

August 12, 2012

My Bucket List

1) See Iron Maiden Live in Concert  ✓ "Check"
2) See Iron Maiden Live in Concert. Again. "In Progress"

April 6, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks, Shun It

Just a few weeks back, petrol surmounted diesel in the US and has stayed there since, which is quite a big deal that just cannot be emphasized enough in the run up to the elections. With the sanctions on Iran beginning to chew into the common people's greenback, maybe it is worth taking a look at ways to deal with the Iranian issue from an American perspective and more importantly, from an Indian perspective. I think every country has the right to pursue nuclear energy for satiating their energy needs. In this case, it is a tad far fetched for Iran to say their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only; considering the bucketloads of oil they have.

For the west, the political route to bring Iran's economy to a screeching halt is through India, China, Japan and South Korea; the only countries still trading for oil with the Persians. Through persuasion that is. Unfortunately for the US, it cannot throw its weight around the foursome without solid backing from Europe. Considering the dump that is the European economy, and the size of the economies of the Asian block, arm twisting through IMF, ECB, WB or the UN would be akin to climbing the Everest barefoot. Looking more closely at the dynamics between the US and the foursome, I find one possible way the deadlock between Iran and the west can be broken.

As we know, the American industry has its hands finely entangled in the Chinese noodles, it would be impossible to fathom the astronomical effects economic action via any means will be on all sides of interest. Not to mention the ' I do whatever I want' attitude the Chinese 'government' has, making it all the more tougher for anyone to bring them into stride, policy wise. Instead, even negotiation would just goad the Chinese to 'I do whatever that annoys you' attitude. There is no weaning off Iraninan oil for the Dragon.

With the Japanese and Koreans being allies, perhaps it may just be possible to talk the two out of bartering with the Iranians. If my opinion is worth its dime, well hopefully more than a dime and a cent, the Japanese will not back off trading with Iran. The Fukushima disaster which followed the devastating quake and tsunami has pushed Japan to its knees. And with total paranoia clutching the Japanese minds (understandably), nuclear reactors are the satanic grip they want to be rid off. Come May, the last functioning nuclear reactor will be shut down with no respite in sight. Although I am a huge proponent of nuclear energy, in this case, I believe the ailing classics need to be overhauled. Most of the reactors were built in the 70s, a time that's technologically eons outdated. With nuclear energy being the biggest portion in the Japanese energy pie, the implications of shutting them all down in a span of 14 months cannot be understated. With oil and coal looming as the only alternative options in the near term, they would need every gram of lignite and every milliliter of petroleum to keep their short-circuited economy running. Don't even bother guessing when their economy will even begin an upward trend. I don't see any bargaining width for the US here. Insistence would mean flogging a sick person with steel wires.

Having deciphered the economic stake two of the four countries have in the Iranian lottery, I will be rash enough to say it could just be possible to bend the South Koreans away from the lightning rod. This would mean more dependence on Russia and other middle east nations for oil. I cannot comment on what that would mean for the Koreans to willfully throw away their stake in the Iraninan casino and wander into the Siberian unknown or the middle eastern quicksands. In any case, the South Korean imports would be dwarfed by those that of the Chinese and the Indians, to make a palpable difference in the hammer blow that is the economic sanctions.

Finally, onto the protagonist - India, in my opinion, can be the rook that can capture the queen and hasten an end to the economic and political stalemate between Iran and the rest of the world. On the surface, we can say its none of our business - a decades old 'official' policy not to butt into non contiguous international issues. But this ain't the classical era and it's very much the time to stick our noses into other people's business. India imports quite a few pints of the juice from Iran and were almost on the verge of signing a natural gas pipeline. Our energy interests are deep and have had a fairly good working relationship with Iran. The government's adamance to continue trading with Iran despite pressure from the west places us in the front foot. I believe we have the right cards to persuade Iran way better than the west to abdicate its nuclear ambitions for the sake of regional stability. It would be foolhardy to say Iran will heed to us, but the odds of failure or success are balanced. India stood by Iran many a time (please forgive the most recent back stabbing at the UNSC) and they may place a dollop of trust in us. That is just sufficient wiggle room to atleast get them talking. We need to be a good shrink here. The returns being us being an important player and not merely a spectator in foreign affairs. But, the retinue of endemic problems plaguing us only serves to deny ourselves such opportunities to rise onto the podium in the international arena. The perfect chance for us to be a bridge between the west and the east looks to have fallen by the wayside. Unfortunately, we are the rook that's unwilling to capture the queen to end the game. Checkmate and our loss.