Random Thoughts

The Perfect Financial Storm – 3

(India and the Middle East)

Incredible and Shining India?

Around India's independence in 1947, the world polarized into two major factions under Truman's America and Stalin's Soviet Union. Nehru had a natural antipathy towards the West because of the colonial experience and was ignorant about Stalin's atrocities and Mao's massacres. He had been partly brainwashed by Harold Laski during his college years in England and the poverty and backwardness of India and the rapid industrial progress of the Soviet Union naturally tilted his policies toward socialism. Japan, Korea, Taiwan and even Europe gradually built up their economies under the protective aegis of the US. Korea before the Korean war and Japan after the second world war had the same per capita GDP as India in 1947. Now India's is about a thousand dollars, South Korea around 25,000 dollars and Japan around 35,000 dollars. During the sixty years Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand all followed the same model and progressed. India was compelled to change course after 1989 as its economy and the Soviet Union collapsed. China had gotten wiser a decade earlier. India adopted the export dependent development later and is now faced with the perfect storm and bankruptcy of America and its consumer culture.

India has over 200 billion dollars of reserves and is not a basket case like Pakistan, Nepal or Bangladesh but faces internal insurgencies from the northeast, Maoists and Islamic terrorists. It runs huge budget deficits and has large foreign debts unlike China with two trillion dollar reserves. It runs large trade deficits unlike China's surpluses. Current account deficits are mostly covered by remittances from NRIs and Indians working in the Gulf. Unfortunately Western NRIs are reducing their accounts and withdrawing funds to cope with their personal needs to survive in the current tsunami and tens of thousands of Indians are returning from the Gulf due to job losses. Dubai had to borrow ten billion dollars from Abu Dhabi and Gulf country sovereign wealth funds have lost nearly 25% in the market meltdown. The falling price of oil is wrecking the budgets of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the UAE. It has given a temporary reprieve to India but when the oil price goes up like it did before and India's exports don't go up and workers lose their Gulf jobs, India's deficits and economy will become disasters. It will take a decade for the West to become heavy consumers again.

In the meantime as I have written in my previous articles relating to water scarcity due to global warming and China's control of the Tibetan origin of India's rivers, India will face worse problems. Half of India's over 200 million households do not have access to a toilet. Defecation in the open is a means of spreading disease like parasites, hepatitis, typhoid, diarrhea and cholera. Lack of running water compounds the problem. Safe potable water supply adds to disease propagation. Storing water in containers at home breeds mosquitoes which cause malaria, dengue and filariasis. Illiteracy (30 to 40%) leads to becoming mired in menial and manual labor jobs with inevitable poverty and absent family planning. 45% of India's children are malnourished. Childhood malnourishment causes higher child mortality and retards mental development. Even Sub-Saharan Africa has lesser percentage of malnourished children than India. Over a third of Indians do not have electricity and over half don't have a reliable supply. Primary education is often unavailable, unaffordable or just plain inadequately poor. This and the lack of roads and infrastructure reduces growth. Poverty and a hopeless future breed crime. No woman can walk the streets of the capital New Delhi at night.

The leaders and much of the bureaucracy are corrupt, incompetent, lazy or stupid. The recent Mumbai terror attack for which there were supposed prior warnings, the totally disorganized response of the NSG from Delhi whose plane was stuck in Chandigarh and for which the Maharashtra government had no rapid transport arrangement from the airport to the hotels shows the incompetence and stupidity of those in charge. The complacency and callousness were revealed in the public behavior and statements of the state ministers. 80% of the internal security funds are spent in protecting the VIPs while common people are killed or maimed by repeated terrorist attacks. The idle bragging talk without any concrete retaliatory steps towards Pakistani terrorist training camps, partly because the Indian army chiefs lack necessary arms and planes due to endless delays in procurement, DRDO delays and slavish subservience to America to whom our leaders look at like dogs with hanging tongues and wagging tails, shows their incompetence, stupidity. Their only interest is to perpetuate their power, use it to get rich unethically and bequeath the power to their children. Of course, we the voters are indifferent, stupid and conniving. The high command of the political parties decides who gets a ticket to run in the elections. There are no open primaries to contest and no referendum to throw out the bums not doing their jobs.

Middle East

Iraq is still a mess and Obama just like the Democratic House and Senate has no intention of leaving Iraq. Instead they want to escalate the unwinnable war in Afghanistan. It has no roads, electricity, water, jobs or security, just like Iraq. It gets 50% of its national income from poppies. The drug trade supports and arms the Taliban and the transport Mafia of Pakistan. Indiscriminate aerial bombing and torture of innocents help to increase Taliban recruitment. Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province is mostly under Taliban control and supply routes for US soldiers from Pakistan have become unsafe and unreliable.

The election of Netanyahu in Israel increases the likelihood of an attack on Iran, the only easy supply route for the US troops in Afghanistan. Obama still uses veiled threats against Iran on the same pretext of nuclear weapons, previously used against Saddam, while not even mentioning Israel's huge nuclear arsenal. He is incapable of stopping Israel's annexation of the West Bank and doing justice to legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for an independent state because of his campaign donors and much of his cabinet. As they say in Texas, 'You have to dance with them that brung you to the prom'.

Iran has legitimate security demands but instead of discussing the differences, the US and Iran are stuck in a never ending Corsican vendetta. The Mullahs having tasted power, privilege and wealth, are unwilling to cede it to the population whose educated young are tired, angry and jobless, instead, they find enough rural and urban less educated poor and play their resonant chord of religious fervor to hold on to power.

Turkey rebuffed by the EU by denial of membership is ruled by an Islamic party. The recent economic downturn has put it in a precarious position. It had to beg from the IMF. This has pushed the population more towards religion. Its anger at the US is making it cuddle up to Russia. Israel's cruel behavior in Lebanon and Gaza has awakened religious fervor in Turkey as have the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are enough grounds to indict the Sudanese president for atrocities in Darfur, his crimes are minor compared to the W's.

Lebanon is as always balanced on a wedge, but to the chagrin of the US, Hezbollah is getting popular even amongst some Christians and Sunnis for its social work and ability to stand up to Israel. Its real motives and intentions are unclear and it does serve as an Iranian ally. Syria's illegitimate ruler being of the Alawite(Shia) minority in a Sunni population faces a stagnant economy and has lost the blank cheque of unlimited backing from the Soviet Union and is dependent on Iran. The US is trying to wean Syria from Iraq but is unable to compel Israel to return the Golan Heights. Thus nothing will come of recent US overtures to Syria.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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