By Prabasi Nepali
India’s Water Wars
This month, two states (and their inhabitants) of the Indian Union, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the south were at daggers drawn regarding the sharing of the waters of the Kaveri river. This has its headwaters in the Western Ghats (Karnataka) and flows through these two states and finally empties into the Coromandel Coast/Bay of Bengal, south of Puducherry and Chenai. There was unnecessary loss of life and property in the violent conflict, and was also a failure of the central government since decades.
Water is increasingly becoming a very scarce resource in India, although renewable through the annual monsoons. Water will also become the object of disputes with neighbouring countries –sharing and utilizing the waters of various rivers among upstream and downstream riverine states – with Pakistan (Indus), Nepal (Mahakali, Gandaki, Sapta Kosi), Bangladesh (Teesta/Ganga/Brahmaputra) and China (Brahmaputra/Zangbo).
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has openly attacked Pakistan’s hindrance of Indo-Afghanistan trade. He was implying that Pakistan was apparently using Afghanistan in its conflict with India. It was openly strangling the struggling war-torn nation’s trade with fellow SAARC member India, in an attempt to assert iests authority (Times of India/TOI, September 16, 2016).. He left unsaid that Pakistan’s powerful military in its security calculations considered Afghanistan as its ‘strategic depth’. At the same time, nations worldwide were allegedly heavily attacking Pakistan for its inaction against home-grown terrorism.
Further, President Ghani said: “Afghanistan is land-locked but thinks openly, Pakistan has access to the sea and thinks like a land-locked country,” in his address at Delhi’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He underlined that his country would not take this lying down. It had made progress and was now at the crossroads of inter–Asian trade routes, and was, therefore, no longer technically a land-locked country. Therefore, those who blocked them us, willould themselves be blocked. Ghani also underlined that Pakistan was attempting to block two great nations from trading with each other. Pakistan was, in fact, acting like a maligned non-state actor vis-à-vis its neighboursneighbors. Afghanistan could also retaliate by shutting off Pakistan’s transit route to Central Asian countries if it did not allow Afghan traders to use the most convenient crossing point, i.e. Wagah, for trade with India. In any case, Pakistan’s monopoly of inter-Asian trade would end with the development of the Chabahar port on Iran’s Makran Coast on the Gulf of Oman/Arabian Sea.
US Presidential Elections
The Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump again courted controversy by demanding out of the blue (neither ot a scripted statement, nor read from the teleprompter) by demanding that his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton be stripped of her Secret Service guards. He elaborated that this should be done since she was against the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (which guarantees the right to bear arms for self protectionself-protection) and against guns in general. He also speculated about the consequences of such an action.
Trump pointedly said: ”I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm .. . immediately . . . Take their guns away she doesn’t want guns. Take them, letslet’s see what happens to her.. . It will be very dangerous.”
His nonsensical tirade on Clinton’s security detail brought swift denunciations from all quarters, but especially from Clinton allies. It also proved that Trump was a “loose cannon”. A media watchdog group was more specific: ”Trump again alluded to violence against Hillary Clinton. . . This is a truly deplorable comment that betrays our nation’s most fundamental democratic values.” Leaked e-mails of former Secretary of State Colin Powell (under Republican President George W. Bush, and who was also a former four-star general and chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military) characterized Trump as a “national disgrace” and a “international pariah”.
Still, Trump has been able to stage a surge in support since the party conventions, and is running neck-to-neck in various national and state polls. His appeal to less educated and less affluent Americans, and above all racists runs unabated. Clinton has been unable to bring together the kind of voter coalitions like Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Her campaign has also been damaged by the perception that she is ‘untrustworthy’.
Last week, Trump also took the whole US media for a ride by using a much-hyped live televised event to basically promote his own new Washington hotel (where the event with fawning veterans was staged). At the end, he managed to make the terse statement (unwilling, or unable to take further questions from the expectant assembled press): “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” This came after years of fuelling conspiracy theories and casting doubts about Obama’s citizenship. Previously, he could not restrain himself from blabbering another colossal lie – accusing Clinton of initiating the doubts about Obama in the first place. All eyes and years are now on the first of the presidential debates on Tuesday, the 27th September.
Elusive Syrian Ceasefire
As expected, there are serious doubts whether the fragile ceasefire in Syria will hold any longer, although it has been extended by the US and Russia by mutual agreement. The main reason is that badly needed humanitarian aid has been stuck at the Turkish-Syrian border, and the long-suffering people in the nearby town of Aleppo have been waiting in vain. This is mainly because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which Russia supports also with air power, has been blocking supplies to wear down the rebels. Moreover, some fighting still persisted.
Vladimir Putin has cast doubts over Washington’s commitment to the agreement, saying it was “deviating” from its own call for openness, and had not succeeded in separating moderate from “semi-criminal” rebels.
On Sunday, the ceasefire was now hanging by a thread, after tensions escalated between Moscow and Washington after a US-led coalition air strike killed at least 90 soldiers of the Syrian army. These were part of the Jabal Therdeh hilltop overlooking and defending the Syrian airbase of Deir Ezzor. This mistaken bombing allowed IS jihadists to temporarily fire on army aircraft taking off or landing there. In addition, fighting has now erupted on several fronts.
Russia’s foreign ministry expressed ‘deep concern’ about the incident. The actions of the pilots from several coalition countries fell “between criminal negligence and direct pandering to IS terrorists” it said. The realization of the US-Russia agreements wererealizations of the US-Russia agreements were now in real danger.
At the time of writing, it was reported that the ceasefire was on the verge of collapse.
Merkel Suffers Reverses in Berlin Elections
In elections for the parliament of the Berlin city-state, German voters took their revenge against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy. Her centre-right party, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) slumped to its lowest level since 1990 (after the Berlin Wall came down). The CDU polled at 18 percent, down from 23.3 percent from 2011.
Many voters turned to the anti-immigrant “Alternative for Germany” (AfD). This far-right party won 12.9 percent of the vote and will now enter the capital’s state parliament – the 10th of the 16 constituent states of the German federation – for the first time. Berlin’s governing mayor Michael Mueller had warned that a double-digit score for the AfD – a right-wing populist party founded in 2011 – would be seen internationally as the return of the ‘Nazis’, but to no avail.
The Social Democrats (SPD) also lost support, falling to 22.4 from 28.3 percent, but remained the biggest party and are likely to abandon the CDU from their current coalition. The SPD, Merkel’s junior partner at the national level, will now probably form a coalition at the state level with the Greens (won 15.9 percent, down 1.7 percentage points, and the radical Left Party (up 4 points at 15.7 percent).
The vote comes two weeks after the CDU was beaten into third place in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania by the AfD. The year before a national election, the result in Berlin is bound to raise pressure on Merkel and deepen rifts in her conservative camp, with more censure expected from her sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) allies in the southern state of Bavaria. The CSU’s finance minister, Markus Soeder was quick to term the election debacle the ‘second massive wake-up call’ in two weeks. A long-term and massive loss in trust among traditional voters threatens the conservative bloc.
Soeder called on the chancellor’s centre-right – centre-left national coalition to win back support by changing course on its immigration policy, in particular a cap of 200,000 refugees per year, which Merkel still rejects. A backlash against her migrant policy has raised questions whether Merkel, Europa’s most powerful leader, will stand for a fourth term next year. The losses for both the two biggest parties point to further fragmentation of Germany’s political landscape, raising the possibility of different coalitions in future.
A political scientist at Cologne University has stated: “With the Berlin result, the AfD has consolidated its position and shown that it can appeal to voters across the board. It is now represented in a big city, eastern German states and in more affluent western states like Baden-Wuerttemberg.” The party is now poised to enter the Bundestag, the lower house of the union parliament in 2017.
By Prabasi Nepali