GULF (NON) COOPERATION COUNCIL

The increasingly taut Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finds itself in a state of crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Political issues between the predominantly Sunni Middle Eastern powers, that have always existed beneath the surface, have now erupted – much like Christopher Hitchens did every time he heard the words, “Intelligent Design”. Of all things good and/or bad (depending upon your view of the rather capricious US President) that have followed Donald Trump’s election to the White House, this most definitely is the development which could have the most enduring consequences on a global level.

So, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain decided a few weeks ago to cut diplomatic ties with their enormously rich neighbour, and fellow member of the GCC, Qatar, for alleged regional meddling. Among the many allegations levelled at Qatar is that, through Al Jazeera – a channel owned and funded by the relatively tiny but deceptively wealthy nation, it has been instigating the people of the region to push for democratic reforms and overthrow authoritarian monarchies. It is widely accepted that Al Jazeera was one of the primary catalysts behind the Arab Spring. It has also been alleged that Qatar funds and supports terrorist groups, such as Al-Nusra, in the Middle East. The Qataris, on the other hand, accuse the opposing side of subverting the terms of the GCC, and the UN Charter, by taking unilateral action against them based on unfounded and malicious claims.

Now, the Qataris can’t be absolved of some of their questionable actions. Even the most loyal viewers of Al Jazeera would concede that some of their journalism is disruptive, and rather slanted. (While encouraging people to overthrow a monarchy and push for democracy is a noble act, it looks abysmally hypocritical when one realizes that Qatar itself is a monarchy.) Additionally, there have been well-documented attacks against free speech in Qatar, such as the imprisonment of poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami in 2011 for insulting the emir of Qatar in one of his writings. Furthermore, the Qataris have in the past refused to support international sanctions against certain terrorist organizations. In spite of this, though, one is tempted to side with the Qataris in this political tussle due to several reasons. To begin with, Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the protesting faction, is arguably one of the world’s leading sponsors of terror groups. It is widely believed to have funded many terrorist organizations over the years in an attempt to spread its Wahabi ideology. Add to that its grossly illiberal laws, particularly with regard to women, and its medieval punishments, including beheadings, and Saudi Arabia doesn’t look like a country that can claim to hold the moral high ground in this, or any other type of international dispute.

Ever since a land and air blockade was imposed on Qatar, it has come to be viewed as a country that is being bullied by its relatively more powerful neighbours to submit to unjustified demands – one of which is seen as a direct attack on free speech – the call to shut down the Al Jazeera network. Not only has Qatar been able to subsist during this difficult time (with considerable help from Turkey), it has come closer to Iran – which comes as a big blow to Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated nations of the region. In the short run, at least, Saudi Arabia’s plan to corner Qatar seems to have backfired. Following the poor decision to get his kingdom involved in the seemingly endless war in Yemen, the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, along with his father, seems to have made another mistake in foreign policy. After Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first international destination as POTUS, and spoke openly against Qatar’s alleged funding to terrorists, King Salman was probably emboldened into taking this harsh step against Qatar. He may have felt that with the Americans on his side, he could get Qatar to submit to his demands. He forgot one little thing though – America’s under-fire President alone does not call the shots on their foreign policy.

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GREAT FOR INDIA: TRUMP OR HILLARY?

Contrary to what Trump would have you believe, America is still a great country. However, the same can’t be said about its presidential election this year. Both of this year’s nominees have a (let’s just say) “questionable” reputation. While Hillary’s supporters consider Trump a megalomaniacal, tax-evading, and women-abusing criminal, the “deplorables” consider Hillary a devious woman – someone who should be rotting in jail, instead of campaigning to be the next Leader of the Free World.

Say what you want about the two nominees but come 8th of November, one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Just like every other country in the world, with the possible exception of the Philippines, India is eagerly awaiting the election results.  One wonders, though, which of the two nominees will be a better friend to India. While there is no way to predict the correct answer right now, my money is on Donald J. Trump. Here’s why:

India’s biggest problem, for the longest time, has been its hostile neighbour, Pakistan. Even though its economy has been floundering for several years now, Pakistan has continued to grow stronger militarily. Using its military power, and its ever-growing nuclear arsenal, Pakistan constantly tries to counter India’s rise as a global player. With no money to fund its expansionist agenda, the Islamic “Republic” relies heavily on aid money that is given to it by, among other countries, the United States of America. Given Trump’s allegedly hostile, and unfair, attitude towards Muslims, it is likely that he will deal with countries like Pakistan with a firm hand. Unlikely to appreciate the many reasons, most of them tacit, behind America giving aid money to Pakistan, Trump may put an end to this policy altogether. Hillary, having had a say in America’s policies for several years now, is unlikely to do so.

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Trump wants many things; migration into the United States of America, however, is not one of them. Now, can “President Trump” possibly stop all migration to America? No, he can’t. He wouldn’t want to either. What he can do, though, is punish, and stop the inflow of, illegal immigrants. In USA, illegal immigrants from Mexico significantly outnumber those from India. If Trump does what he claims he will, and reduces the number of illegal immigrants in America, then Indians that wish to migrate to America legally will benefit in the long run.

Trump, rather imprudently, considers India a Hindu country and evidently, has a favourable view of it. He has also expressed his desire to work closely with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. In an attempt to reach out to the American Indian voters, Trump borrowed PM Modi’s famous election slogan, and in one of his recent campaign videos said, “Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkaar” (Translation – This Time, Trump’s Government). Clearly, President Trump would be more likely to formulate pro-India policies, than would President Clinton.

The election campaign is almost over. Both nominees have their strengths, and obvious weaknesses. Hillary has the advantage of having been in government. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of never having been in government, which enables him to freely criticize some of America’s unpopular policies to get people to vote for him. America knows what it’ll get with Hillary. Trump, though, is a surprise package. So, which one of the two nominees will prove to be the better President for USA, and the world? No one knows. However, if Trump becomes the next President of the United States of America, for most Indians, it may not be such a bad thing.

WHOSE REFUGEE IS HE ANYWAY?

The immigration crisis in Europe has been bad for a while now, and it appears to be getting worse. Violence, a poor quality of life, political unrest, fear of persecution and other reasons have led to a large number of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, fleeing to Europe, in the hope of being able to lead better lives there. The situation in these parts of the world has become so bad over the last few years that every day, thousands of people, with little regard for their safety, board fragile boats that are not fit for the sea by any means, and set sail for Europe. Now, a number of these boats drown on their way, but miraculously, quite a few of them make it to European countries such as Italy, Greece etc.

On reaching the shores of Europe, these refugees feel that the worst is over and that they can finally get on with their lives by moving to European countries of their choice, or even settling down in Italy. However, little do they know that their struggle for survival is not quite over.

This is just the beginning of another struggle; a struggle to find a permanent home. Countries such as Italy and Greece initially help these refugees. They accommodate them in their refugee camps, feed them and provide medical aid to those who need it. However, what follows is an unfortunate, human Ping-Pong match – A match played among the countries of Europe to determine who will take care of these refugees permanently.

No one country wants to accommodate and help rehabilitate all of these refugees on its own. Italy, for instance, has accommodated a large number of refugees over the last few years. However, it wants other countries from the European Union to help shoulder the burden. The Italians believe that just because their country, due to its location, is among the most accessible countries for these refugees, they should not have to take in all of the refugees and resettle them in different parts of Italy. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, feels that Europe is not doing its bit to help resolve the problem. And he is right.

Under to the Dublin regulations, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country of their entry to Europe. Italy believes that this rule is unfair. Why should Italy, or Greece for that matter, have to accommodate all of the refugees that wash up on their shores, only because they are the most accessible of the EU countries?

Until recently, people in Schengen countries could travel to other countries that are part of the Schengen agreement, without any problems. However, in light of the ongoing immigration crisis, a number of countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have tightened security at their borders. This has resulted in the accumulation of a large number of asylum seekers within the borders of Italy. The French security forces have been catching refugees in their areas and dumping them back into Italian territory. A number of other countries around Italy are doing the same. It has become like a human Ping-Pong match. Men, women and children are being treated like objects. They are picked up from different parts of France and Austria and dumped back into Italy.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, refused to take back migrants who applied for asylum in Hungary and fled to other parts of Europe before their cases were decided. The Hungarians have also decided to erect a fence on their borders to help eliminate illegal immigration into Hungary.

The Italians are irate at these developments. Renzi has warned that if Italy does not receive adequate support from the rest of the EU to deal with this problem, they will resort to “Plan B”, a plan that will “first and foremost, hurt Europe”. Renzi wants the European Union to help forge repatriation agreements with African Nations, and to share the cost of returning home ‘economic migrants’. However, no help appears to be forthcoming.

The situation is a complete mess at the moment. A few countries are suffering, whereas the other member states of the European Union are not bothered about the ongoing crisis. In their attempt to look after their own interests, they seem to have become a little too selfish. They have left countries such as Italy and Greece to tackle the problem on their own. Italy has declared that it will not accept a “Selfish Europe”. Will the European Union be able to find a viable, long-term solution? Maybe.

One thing is for sure though. If the European Union does not find a solution that is acceptable to all of its member states very soon, this problem threatens to spiral out of control.

INSECURITY – HOW IT SHAPED THE WORLD

Over the last century, the world has seen a number of significant events unfold. Far too many have taken place, for all of them to be listed here. The First World War, the Holocaust, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq by Uncle Sam are just a few of the important, and unfortunate events that took place in the 20th century.

All of these events are related to each other. The political intricacies and reasons behind these events can be discussed until the cows come home. However, all of these events can be considered to have been caused by one thing, a deep sense of insecurity among the political leaders of that time. Let’s take a look at each one of them.

Several political, economic and territorial causes led to the commencement of the First World War. The arms race in the preceding years, unresolved territorial disputes, military tension, and colonial rivalry, all played a role. It would not be possible for me to list down and dissect each and every cause of the war. In spite of having differing views on what led to the war, most prominent historians would agree that the misunderstandings that existed among some countries at the time played a key role in bringing about this war of epic proportions. During the 1910’s, due to a number of reasons, some actual and some “perceived”, tensions were running high in Europe. The increasing sense of insecurity among the world powers of the time was palpable. They felt that, in order to protect their ‘Strategic Interests’ (a word that is thrown around even today, each time a country does something inexplicable), they needed to act before their adversaries. The growing opinion among them was that if they did nothing then they would stand to lose to those who did. Things happened, big decisions were made and bam – the First World War had begun. Did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand finally break the camel’s back? It probably did. But the objective of this post is not to discuss such “technicalities”.

The Holocaust is among the most tragic events that the world has ever seen. Adolf Hitler, together with his Nazi allies, tortured and killed millions of Jews in Germany and German-occupied territories. Hitler hated the Jews. He was suffering from a “Superior Race” syndrome. However, Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer is of the opinion that the Holocaust was triggered because of some Germans living in “an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest.” Hmm… How can we sum up this view in one word? Oh, I know! Sheer Insecurity! Okay, that’s two words, but you get the point.   

What led to the Second World War? The answer to this question is very simple – a gazillion reasons that can’t be discussed at length here. However, what is certain is that the overly aggressive policy of the Germans, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, made other powerful countries of the time feel “insecure”. They knew that they would need to act in order to keep the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in check. In his attempt to further the dominance of Germany in the region, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The rest, as they say, is history. The Second World War began, led to a lot of carnage and ultimately, effected changes in the world that can be seen to this day. The most important among them was the formation of the United Nations.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at the Cold War between Uncle Sam and the Soviets. If the Cold War is Major League Baseball, then “Insecurity” is Babe Ruth. Poor analogy? I think so too. What I wanted to convey was that the feeling of “Insecurity” is inseparable from the Cold War. The Americans and the Soviets did all that they could to outdo each other during this war. Why? Primarily because they were insecure of one another. The Americans were the first to reach the Moon, and took great pride in having done so, especially at the expense of the Soviets, who were also doing all that they could to attain superiority in spaceflight capability. Mankind was always bound to reach the Moon someday. However, it happened sooner, rather than later, thanks to the “Space Race” that began between the two world powers due to their own insecurities.

One of the many results of the Cold War was the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Soviet tanks first rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, in order to protect the idea of Communism in the country. The Soviets could not afford to let another country veer away from the concept of Communism. They felt that if they were to delay making their move then the Americans would seize the opportunity that was created by the growing unrest and instability in Afghanistan. They did not want to allow the Americans to use Afghanistan as a strategic military base for themselves. Basically, they were just “Insecure”. The results of this decision turned out to be disastrous for the Soviets, thanks to the help given to the Mujahideen by the Americans (with Pakistani assistance). When the Soviets finally left Afghanistan, under ignominious circumstances, the Americans had finally avenged the humiliation that they had faced in Vietnam, due to Soviet involvement. The insecurity among the high ranking officials in the Soviet Union had led to an embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan, among other consequences, for the Soviets.

The Americans, with their allies, invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that the mission of the coalition forces was to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and bring Saddam’s support of terrorism to an end. Evidently, Bush Jr. was insecure of what Saddam Hussein could do if he were to successfully build weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for the coalition forces, it later emerged that Iraq was invaded on faulty evidence and apparently, no WMD’s were found in Iraq. There were a number of other reasons too that drove George Bush to invade Iraq. However, what is apparent here is the great sense of “Insecurity” among the Coalition forces towards Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Insecurity among powerful people has had a profound impact on the world in the past. However, it is not over just yet. To this day, the foreign policies of a lot of countries stem more from a sense of insecurity, than coherent logic. Countries that are part of the Indian Subcontinent illustrate this statement. If China were to conduct a joint military exercise with India, then those who call the shots in Pakistan would start working overtime to think of ways to foil such a plan. If the Pakistani Premier were to make a visit to the US, then India would most definitely be wary of such a visit. The insecurity and apprehension between the Israelis, and the Palestinians or the entire Arab World for that matter, is well documented too. This just goes to show how insecurity has always played a major role in World Politics and continues to do so.

Like I mentioned in my previous post though, there are always two sides to a coin. What I call insecurity may also be viewed as preemption. It can be argued that it is essential for a country to be able to anticipate the next move of its adversaries and act proactively, instead of waiting to see what they do and then react to it. Would I disagree with such an opinion completely? Maybe not.

I, for one, believe that far too many decisions have been made by world leaders in the past that were based more on their insecurities, than on concrete evidence. Perhaps, if such decisions were lesser in number, the world would have been slightly different today.

What Do You Believe?

From prominent business leaders, to politicians, to sportsmen, everyone has an opinion about the ideal way of succeeding in life.  Everyday we get to see articles, blogs, and interviews where successful people from all walks of life share, what they consider, “Pearls of Wisdom”. They share their views about life and tell everyone how their success can be emulated by those who read their invaluable advice. We have grown up learning how we can be successful in whatever we do by following a certain set of rules/beliefs. However, as with every aspect of life, there are always two sides to a coin. What we have been taught right from the beginning, may not always be true. I have listed down some beliefs, along with their contradictions, that may be helpful, but are not the only ways of attaining the elusive success that we all crave.

Try and Try Until You Succeed – Each one of us has been told that quitting is not an option if we wish to succeed in life. Right from the very beginning, we are taught to keep trying until we achieve our objectives. While this may be true, it is most certainly not the only way of attaining success. I recently came across an article on the internet titled, “Winners Also Quit and Quitters Do Win”. The writer of the article felt that if we keep failing at something over and over again, it is possible that our strength lies elsewhere and we should move on and try to identify it without wasting any more time. I concede that quitting is not the answer to our problem of failing at something repeatedly. However, “KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT” can be the difference between success and abject failure.

Slow and Steady Wins the RaceWhile we have always been taught that this old adage is the golden rule to achieve success in life, it may not be the best bet that we have been coaxed in to believing. We have all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, in which the slow and steady tortoise always pips the fast but complacent hare to the finish line. However, one of the most successful sportsmen in the history of professional boxing, Cassius Clay, i.e. Mohammed Ali, was of the opinion that if one wishes to attain true success, then one should aim to be quick and efficient instead of simply being “slow and steady”. ‘Slow and Steady’ might win the race but we must also remember that “TIME WAITS FOR NO MAN.”

Team Work is Better Than Individual WorkIf you work as part of a team, you will be more successful as opposed to when you work alone”. This is what most of us have grown up listening to. Our minds have been programmed into believing that someone who is working alone is at a significant disadvantage against those, who work in teams to achieve a common goal. However, there are some people who thrive under the pressure of working alone. They feel a certain sense of autonomy when they work alone. Not having to depend on others and not having anyone to hold them back/slow them down, brings out the best in them.

Hard Work is the Only Key to SuccessOnly hard work can lead us to success in our professional lives. Most people grow up thinking that this is the one golden rule which can guarantee success. However, we have all seen real life examples of some employees tugging away at work for years together with little success. We have also seen employees who have achieved great success without having to work as hard as they probably could/should have done. Some people reach dizzying heights in their careers by doing what is popularly termed as, “Smart Work”. With each passing day, a new breed of employees is emerging, i.e. those who believe in both hard as well as smart work. These are the people who have all their bases covered and have the best chance at overcoming the barriers that stand between them and professional success.

It’s Better to be Safe Than SorryWhile some professionals in today’s corporate world believe that – “It is better to be safe, than sorry”. There is an equal number of professionals out there who are believers of the old adage, “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.” This is not to say that any one group of people stands a better chance of succeeding than the other group. It all depends on how things pan out for each individual person.

It is most interesting to see how many differing opinions and beliefs exist in this world. The last example of the same is the fact that to some people, I am a very diligent, hardworking and honest employee, while certain other people feel, let’s just say, ……….. very differently 🙂