Syria – A tale of two wars

A rebel fighter fires his gun against a Syrian government troop position in the Bustan al-Basha area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo | AFP PHOTO/ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS
A rebel fighter fires his gun against a Syrian government troop position in the Bustan al-Basha area of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo | AFP PHOTO/ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS

The Shia and Sunni war has been going on for centuries. The conflict in Syria has gone from being a movement to support the rights of the people to a holy war against the Shia rulers who are seen as oppressing the Sunni population  of the country. But that’s not the story.

There isn’t one single rebel opposition in Syria. The major ones (apart from the Kurdish Council) come under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council(SNC). This organization, formed in 2011, operates out of Istanbul and is internationally accepted to be the face of the struggle. The other major opposition force is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), although it is part of the coalition as well, it is one of the major influencers in Syria.  A bloody battle ensued between the rebel groups and the army providing a fertile ground for radical Islamist groups to find relevance for themselves again.

What has actually happened is totally different. Instead of cooperation, a side war has begun between the FSA and the jihadists. Both have engaged in fighting each other on one front and fighting the government forces on the other. The latest incident of  the fighting is the assassination of a senior FSA officer by a jihadist group on Friday, in return the FSA has threatened a blood feud. To the despair of the western powers and the FSA, large portions of the country is now in control of fringe rebel groups who welcome the support of organizations such as the Al- Qaeda and Taliban. Wealthy Arab sympathizers who had funded the Taliban before look to do the same now in this war, which is being fought on two fronts.

The US and the other western observers now look to actively engage in the Syrian conflict to ensure that radical forces don’t take control. A tricky spot where active participation of the US will lead to an act of war and more reasons for terrorist organizations to enter the war. At the same time, US cannot do with inaction because  extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which has publicly pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and have been the most successful in operations against troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a trend which is increasingly becoming common. It’s no surprise that President Obama had earlier announced that the US will provide weapons shipment to Syrian rebels which as of today has been approved by the congressional panel giving the final go ahead where the weapons will be routed through the CIA.  Meanwhile, the rebels in Syria will look to take all the help they can get to fight Assad forces on one side and the extremist forces on the other.

Will Zardari leave country after losing power?

The recent assassination of President Asif Ali Zardari’s chief security officer Bilal Sheikh, has turned out to be the breaking point for him and his family members. There is a lot of speculation regarding whether or not he would remain in the country after losing power. He would be completing his term on September 8th and is expected to leave the nation as soon as possible.

President Zardari is in a lot of danger and trouble, with threats on his life as well as the threat of the corruption cases that is still pending against him. The reopening of the cases would be a serious risk once he completes his term as the presidential immunity would not be applicable anymore. Moreover, his life would be in more danger than ever as the extensive security that is provided to him would be taken away.

The president is currently visiting his family located in Dubai; from there he would be taking a trip to London after which he is expected to return to Pakistan. Zardari’s Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar has declared all the rumors about him not returning to the country after the trip as false. Zardari has refused to opt for a re-election, because of the loss of the parliamentary majority. With his refusal to go for a re-election, the nation’s geared up to welcome a new president. It is said that as early as next month the Electoral College will elect his successor.

Cardiac arrest claims Bofors scandal middleman Quattrocchi’s life

File picture of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, the middleman in infamous Bofors scandal, who died on 12th July, 2013, citing cardiac arrest in Milan

After nearly 20 years of the revelation of  the Bofors scandal, an interesting turn came to light with the death of  one of its accused, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, a representative of petrochemical firm, Snamprogetti. Bofors was one of the largest corruption scandals in India, involving politicians like Rajiv Gandhi, dealing with an exorbitant amount of INR640 million (US$11 million),which was exposed through a team of journalists led by N. Ram of The Hindu. The 74-year old businessman died due to a cardiac arrest.

Ottavio Quattrocchi was charged with being the medium in the bribes that were allegedly paid to speed up the Bofors gun deal, signed between the Congress government and now dysfunctional Swedish arms company AB Bofors.

The Bofors chargesheet filed by the CBI  in 1991 named Quattrocchi as one of the accused in a case involving INR64 crore payoffs for supply of Swedish Howitzer guns to the Indian Army in the 90’s. The INR1600 crore contract was executed in 1986.

On March 4th, 2011, Quattrocchi was discharged by the Tis Hazari court for the alleged payoffs after CBI withdrew prosecution charges against him, putting a full stop to a major chapter in the Bofors tale. An application for the withdrawal of the case against Quattrocchi was filed by the public prosecutor on October 3, 2009.

The CBI failed to extradite Quattrocchi to India from Malaysia in 2002 and Argentina in 2007,  due to lack of extradition treaty with these countries.

Defence Minister, AK Anthony said, “The government does not plan to launch any fresh investigation into the Bofors scandal and that Quattrocchi stands as a “free man” as he could not be extradited even after 20 years of registration of the case.”

With the death of one of the key accused in one of the greatest scams of our country, it can be said that the Congress government will close the case. This lets the Congress leave behind their past misdeeds of such an exorbitant amount, which could have been used for the progress of the country instead.

Bofors scandal will remain an epitome of how widespread corruption is in Indian politics, compromising the security of our country. It will always signify the misdeeds of Congress in 1980-90, which will haunt them for times to come.

The Political Game Show

20th Asian Athletics Championships in Pune, July 3 – July 7.

The game of politics has never remained a constant theory to make accurate calculations and assumptions. In India, it seems to be even more complex. In a move which looks like a step of her campaign against the Sri Lankan government after the emergence of probable new evidence of war crimes, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa took the decision that her State would not host the 20th Asian Athletics Championships this year. In a statement, she said that the participation of Sri Lankan athletes would hurt the feelings of the Tamils. Ms. Jayalalithaa also said that her government wrote to the AAA, seeking the exclusion of the Sri Lankan contingent from the event. This was in view of the Sri Lankan government acting repeatedly against Tamils.

Such game of politics is not new in our country and the Central government should have kept in mind the regional aspirations of the State government before asking them to host the event. Similarly, the State government should also think about the international image of the country especially when we talk about India emerging as an Asian Giant. While it is always credible to have a stand on serious issues, at times we must have the sportsman spirit as well. Interestingly the event was not only rejected by Tamil Nadu but also by Jharkhand and Delhi for reasons better known to them.

Amidst months of uncertainty and indecisiveness, the Asian Athletics Championships was finally decided to be held in Pune’s Balewadi Stadium from July 3rd to 7th. Citing the difficulties the AFI faced all along, its secretary-general C.K. Valson said, “Of course, it would have been terribly shameful for the whole country had we been forced to back out of our commitment. But thankfully, all our worries are almost over as we have now that the Maharashtra Chief Minister has cleared our proposal to have the championship in Pune.”

The AFI, compared to the comfortable budget of over Rs. 40 crore allotted by the Tamil Nadu Government, would be working with a scaled-down allotment of around Rs. 12.75 crore to be made by the Maharashtra Government for conducting the meet in Pune. Later on the Maharashtra Government has also provided another Rs. 4 crore for sprucing up the stadium in Balewadi. There is no doubt that Maharashtra is the financial capital of the country and this time it acted as a very strong face-saver. The Congress-NCP led government under the leadership of Prithviraj Chavan once again proved that they are the ultimate master of all games.


Queen of the Inane

"It's a CPI(M) conspiracy....and someone's trying to kill me"
“It’s a CPI(M) conspiracy….and someone’s trying to kill me”

The Indian porn industry seems to be facing competition from an unlikely quarter. Mamata Banerjee, the garrulous Chief Minster of West Bengal who is known to blame everything from bad weather to potholes in south Kolkata roads on CPI(M) and its perceived comrades, the Naxalites, seems to have found a new target to vent her ire upon. This time the unfortunate victims of her frequent and high pitched wrath are the social workers and activists who appear as guests on certain local TV channels to discuss the rise in instances of rape in the state.

“Every evening, these people have juicy discussions about one or two incidents (of rape)…Children are getting to know about things they should not know about. Who are being called to the channels? Many of them are involved in pornography. They claim to be social workers but they are actually money workers,”.

Soon after she made these comments in a public rally in Burdwan, she faced severe criticism from all sections of the society, including from the ones she had just given a new career in the porn industry. What was startlingly evident to all was the fact that the esteemed Chief Minister seemed more interested in finding conspiracy theories everywhere than actually acknowledging that there was a problem in the state which needed attention.

The latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics attest the magnitude of the problem. With 30,942 cases of crimes against women reported in West Bengal in 2012, the state tops the list, closely followed by Andhra Pradesh (28,171) and Uttar Pradesh (23,569). With 2,000 cases of rapes registered in 2012 alone, West Bengal accounts for 12.67 percent of total crimes committed against women. Kolkata, the erstwhile “City of Joy” now holds the notorious distinction of being the third most unsafe city for women in the country, behind Delhi and Bangalore.

Mamata Banerjee however, seems barely perturbed by these disturbing figures. She seems to have ascended (or descended) into a realm where facts and figures count for nothing. They are but a blip in her radar, to be dismissed either as a conspiracy by CPI(M) or a story made up to malign her administration. If that doesn’t work, she pulls out the ace in her sleeve alleging that there is a conspiracy being hatched to kill her. The last point has nothing to do with rape but that’s how her mind seems to work- tell people someone is trying to kill you and people would be shocked into silence, refraining from making any more comments. She has done it once, she has done it twice and there is no reason why she won’t do it again.

There are certain people who, by virtue of their intelligence, have established such a place in the society that it’s hard to imagine them ever saying anything even remotely stupid. Like Stephen Hawking. And then there are others, those who are infamous for shooting their mouths off, dropping one ludicrous inanity after the other. Mamata Banerjee seems set to establish herself as the queen of the second group, becoming, in the process, a female version of Lalu Prasad Yadav, equally infamous for his idiocy riddled gaffes. If only people found it funny.