It has not been a good week for Asia. Even as the region was already
confronting the problems of food shortages and natural calamities, the
earthquake in China early in the week caused thousands of deaths, following
which came the horrific terrorist acts in Jaipur and the breakup of a coalition
government in Pakistan.
A combined death toll of over 200,000 from the aforementioned calamities is bad
enough, but it showed that at least some non-democratic countries can get their
act together when rescuing their citizens from natural calamities - in sharp
contrast to tyrannies such as Myanmar and democracies such as America
following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The relative optimism of seeing China assign the right priorities to events and
act on them efficiently must be counterbalanced by Myanmar, which seems to have
no clue in this regard. Strangely and tragically, China was dealing with events
beyond its control while Myanmar was clearly ambivalent about events very much
under its control.
The communists of China have managed to move mountains to rescue their fellow
citizens. Conversely, following the terrorist blasts in Jaipur, Indian
politicians have quickly returned to the practice of calling for peace while
blaming Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh for their misfortunes. The main
story in Indian newspapers appears to be that the "intelligence" agencies in
these countries that broke away from India over 60 years ago now harbor enough
talent to occasionally wreck havoc on Indian cities, based on their common
religious agenda. In the midst of all this, perhaps the real culprits are
quietly standing in the crowd and perhaps even smiling, but that's a story for
later in this article .
While there is perhaps little doubt that many citizens in South Asia wish to
harm their neighbors, I find a lot of these conspiracy stories incredible to
say the very least. For example, reading online versions of various Indian and
US newspapers this week, the conclusion appears to be that an al-Qaeda offshoot
of Bangladeshi extremism (or is it the other way around?) was behind the
attacks in Jaipur.
Somehow, the idea of Bangladesh, a country whose government can barely collect
taxes in the capital city and where the idea of an exit strategy for citizens
usually involves annual floods, as the epicenter of Asian terrorism does not
present a compelling picture. Bangladeshis appear confused enough about whether
they are Muslims or Bengalis first, let alone on any questions on what kind of
government they would like to have; it seems implausible that this country's
indigenous fundamentalists somehow pulled off a complex operation thousands of
miles away in a city where no one really speaks the language nor shares their
version of Islam.
Then comes the usual finger-pointing at the Pakistani establishment, and here
perhaps the Indian media is on firmer ground. There is certainly a strong
statistical relationship over the past 20 years between terrorism aimed at
India and the presence of democratic governments in Pakistan. In other words,
barring the notable exceptions of December 2001 when Muslim militants almost
succeeded in attacking the Indian parliament, terrorism against India always
increases when democratic governments assume power in Pakistan. On the other
end of the scale, I noted last year that both China and India owed a debt of
gratitude to the strong economy of Pakistan  that came about under the
stewardship of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Then again, the ephemeral nature of Pakistani democracy can be compared with
dewdrops on the morning rose: gone before you can get the camera ready to
shoot. Perhaps there has simply been enough Pakistani-inspired terrorism
Bad intentions, but so what?
Even if we were to convince ourselves of the above, proving a direct link
between bad intentions and harmful actions isn't quite so straightforward,
unless you happen to be US Vice President Dick Cheney. For anyone else, the key
question would involve how and why the enemies of the state can actually gain
enough ground to stage attacks on one's own country. In other words, why should
a bunch of citizens take up arms against their own country or provide support
to any foreign agenda?
Here is where India's curiously chaotic democracy fails to deliver. Despite
boasting a plethora of religions and races represented in parliament, every
single politician in the country seems to be cut from the same old socialist
cloth that the Soviet Union produced in mass numbers a few decades ago and then
discarded quickly in its new (old) avatar of Russia in the past decade. It is
that very same socialism that feeds the beast of terrorism in India, be it
Islamic or the even-more-sinister Maoist embrace being felt in some states.
Most other Asian communists have accepted the principles of market capitalism
with notable success, including China and Vietnam. Yet, the clutch of Indian
communists rules on, preaching egalitarian values that essentially distribute
misery across the country. In the past few years, communists in India have
risen from being mere nuisances to a more significant threat due to the
coalition governments now in vogue. In using this bully pulpit to support the
central government India's communists have started wrecking real damage on the
Indian communists - and I tend to regard the entire ruling coalition as a bunch
of communists - wear their opposition to economic reforms like some kind of
medal secured for valiant combat in battle. In fact, all it represents is utter
pigheadedness. By preventing the privatization of state-owned companies and
banks, all they have achieved has been a rapid slowdown of infrastructure
spending in the country, which has in turn pushed back the potential
development of rural areas.
Farm productivity in India remains abysmal, and cities complain of rampant
labor shortages in sectors such as construction. Instead of standing back and
allowing market forces to assert themselves, communists have prevented labor
mobility to the urban areas through a system of government subsidies.
The worst of these has been termed the Rural Employment Scheme, under which the
government guarantees minimum employment for villagers, in situ. That last
detail is most striking, as it shows the extent to which communists can take
their stupidity, in this case expecting jobs to find people rather than the
other way around as it has been for the past few thousand years in any economy.
Communist opposition to the nuclear deal with the United States, instigated by
the historic opposition of the communists to Western powers, will help ensure
that India does not produce enough electricity for its next phase of growth,
thereby accentuating the wealth and development gap. For the country's poor at
least, the phrase "With friends like these ..." should ring a bell.
On the other side of the scale, communists have prevented any potential for
reducing various government subsidies on fuel, electricity and even the
purchase price of grain (which has rocketed far higher than the government
price). Every one of these things has contributed to inflation, in both rural
and urban areas.
As the rural poor are unable to make ends meet due to rising inflation, they
inevitably have to endure the squalor of urban slums in addition to the daily
problems to be expected in large cities across the developing world. That
includes corruption, crime, indifferent government services and the like.
A recent example highlights this nexus between communist thinking and
corruption. Even as the Indian government swiftly banned trading in commodity
futures as the prices of various food grains rose, it was clear that the
communist belief that "markets are evil" was applied in full.
But then came revelations in Indian newspapers this week that the government
had overpaid on tenders for imported wheat that was found to be of such poor
quality it was unfit for human consumption. Unfazed, the government announced
that the wheat would be sold to Indian companies making white bread rather than
the traditional Indian bread, as if the magic of baking in large stainless
steel drums could somehow render such wheat now fit for people's plates.
The key source of frustration for many Indians is the unholy combination of
corrupt government officials and staid communists who between them have choked
off many pathways to economic progress. This frustration all too often boils
over, and results in terrorism of the sort witnessed in Jaipur.
You can accuse me of oversimplifying matters, but the main point is that only a
people without hope would sacrifice themselves for ends of the sort that
terrorists espouse. That leads us to conclude that India's terrorist
masterminds do not sit in foreign capitals but in the country's own communist
1. Some of my previous articles touched on related subjects - the importance of
government investment in education (The
jihadi ate my homework Asia Times Online, February 27, 2007) and the
economic underpinnings of terrorism (India's
muslim 'problem' Asia Times Online, September 1, 2007). The second
article dealt with the increased visibility of Muslim crime due to its
prevalence in cities rather than rural areas.
2. Lessons from Kashmir and Xinjiang touched on the success of the Pakistani
economy robbing terrorist movements of their chief source of cannon fodder
namely unemployed youth.