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What will the Middle East look like in 2019?

The Kashmir Monitor




By Marwan Kabalan

As we start the tenth year after the onset of the Arab uprisings, there is, sadly, little hope that there will be peace, democratic transition and stability in the Middle East.

2019 will not bring much positive change to the region: Ongoing conflicts are unlikely to be resolved, some may even get worse and new ones may break out.


In this continuing upheaval, the United States will certainly play the most important role. The political wrangling between President Donald Trump and the Washington establishment, in particular, is likely to determine the direction of much of US foreign policy towards the region.

It is widely expected that, in 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will make more revelations about the results of his investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Therefore, Trump will likely seek to distract the public by taking dramatic decisions on foreign policy; the Middle East will be the easiest target.

Already at the end of 2018, there were clear indications of this trend. Trump’s mid-December surprise decision to withdraw over 2,000 US troops from northeast Syria was widely seen as an attempt to appease his support base, consolidate power and rein in administration officials who disagreed with him.

Apart from the continuing unpredictability of US foreign policy shifts, major developments in the Middle East in 2019 will largely be determined by six major issues: the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the Gulf crisis, the US confrontation with Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and regional rivalries.

Despite the defeat of the Syrian opposition and the retaking of large swaths of land by pro-regime forces in 2018, the Syrian conflict is far from over. More than 40 percent of Syria’s territory is still not under the control of the Damascus government.

The withdrawal of US troops from the oil, gas and water-rich northeast is likely to fan the competition between the major external powers in the conflict: Turkey, Russia, and Iran. This is likely also to affect the de-militarised zone agreement in Idlib, which prevented a major onslaught on the last opposition stronghold last September.

The Syrian conflict may very well enter a new phase of proxy warfare, wherein the US gives Turkey the responsibility of blocking Iran in the territories that it intends to evacuate. The withdrawal of US forces would also stimulate a more aggressive Israeli approach in Syria.

After the US withdrawal, Israel will have to rely solely on its own efforts to counter Iran’s influence in Syria and will seek to increase its military activities on Syrian territory. It will, however, face one major challenge – Russia, which controls Syrian airspace. In September, an incident involving Israeli fighter jets led to the downing of a Russian surveillance plane and the death of its 15-member crew. This infuriated Moscow, which has so far refused to continue its close military coordination with Israel.

Increasing tensions between the major foreign players in Syria are likely also to delay even more a political solution of the conflict. So far the Astana trio (Russia, Turkey and Iran) has failed to agree on the formation of the constitution committee. Now with the withdrawal of the US troops from Syria, the likelihood of an agreement has become even slimmer; in fact, the entire Astana process could collapse. The parallel UN-led peace negotiations have also reached a dead end.

The US withdrawal also means that the US is effectively abandoning its Kurdish allies, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). This will likely result in a dramatic improvement in Turkish-US relations and a restart of their alliance in Syria. This will certainly upset Russia, which is likely to increase its reliance on Iranian militias to fill the vacuum left behind by the US in northeast Syria. Realignment could also bring the YPG, fearing a Turkish military offensive, closer to Russia and the Syrian regime.

Despite the ceasefire agreement in the port city of Hodeidah and the notable progress that was made in the negotiations between the warring parties in Sweden, a final settlement of the four-year conflict is still a distant possibility.

Indeed, the weakening position of the Houthis following their loss of territory over the past two years and the enormous pressure the Saudi leadership is facing to stop the war in the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, may have made it easier for UN envoy Martin Griffiths to bring the warring parties together in Sweden.

Yet, the two sides are still convinced that they can win militarily. The Houthis think that the Saudis will eventually have to bow to international pressure, stop the war and abandon their endeavours in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition, on the other hand, believes that recent progress on the ground, especially in Hodeidah, will eventually force the Houthis to accept their terms to end the war.

Iran, too, is still unwilling to help reach a final settlement. Tehran seeks to keep the Saudis bogged down in Yemen so that they would not have the resources to deal with its activities on other fronts in the Middle East. Iran also wants to use the Yemen conflict as a bargaining chip in a grand deal to lift US sanctions and salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after Trump’s withdrawal last May.

Despite extensive Kuwaiti mediation efforts and increasing US pressure on Saudi Arabia, there are no indications that the Gulf crisis will be ending any time soon. In early December, Saudi Arabia refused to discuss the crisis at the last GCC summit in Riyadh, to which Qatar sent only a low-level delegation.

The four blockading countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) believe that time is on their side and that Qatar will eventually accept their demands. Qatar, on the other hand, thinks that it can weather the blockade and wait for the four to realise that they are in fact shooting themselves in the foot.

In 2019, this standoff will likely persist. For mere geographic reasons, Qatar will have to continue relying on Iran to evade the blockade. It will also strengthen its alliance with Turkey and has allowed the latter to establish a military presence in the Gulf for the first time since the end of World War I.

Following the withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA last May, Washington unilaterally re-imposed sanctions on Iran in two rounds: the first one started in August and the second and toughest started in November, hitting Iran’s oil and financial sectors.

Fearing soaring oil prices, the Trump administration gave six-month waivers to eight countries importing Iranian oil. Come May, when the waivers expire, Trump will have to decide whether to fulfil his promise of working to bring Iranian oil exports to zero.

If he does, Iran, which is largely dependent on its oil revenue for hard currency, is likely to consider the move a declaration of war. In retaliation, it could act on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which some 20 percent of the world’s traded oil passes. This would effectively block other Gulf states from accessing the oil market. Although many consider this a hollow threat, the possibility of an escalation is real as the US tightens the noose around Iran’s neck.

If Iran chooses not to block the Strait of Hormuz, it has the capacity to retaliate in other places, especially in Iraq. It has already urged its allies in the Iraqi parliament to try to abrogate the 2008 treaty which made the US military presence in Iraq legal.

Pro-Iran Shia militias have also threatened to target US troops in the country. The resumption of the US-Iran conflict in Iraq could benefit the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, which last year was greatly weakened but not eliminated. Hence Iraq could see further political and security turmoil in 2019 should tension between Iran and the US increase.

In 2019, Israel is likely to continue taking unilateral measures to establish new realities on the ground in Palestine, taking advantage of the full support it receives from the Trump administration and the continuing turmoil in the Arab world and within the Palestinian leadership. In fact, Israel is working with the Trump administration on two fronts in order to completely erase the Palestinian question.

First, it seeks to take the so-called “final status issues” off the negotiation table, most importantly the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The US has already recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has moved its embassy to the western part of the city. It has also halted funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), demanding that the agency change the definition of a refugee in order to resume its financial contributions.

If UNRWA caves in, the number of Palestinian refugees who receive aid will drop from several million to a mere few hundred thousand. This will also determine the number of Palestinian refugees when the right of return is discussed in any future peace talks.

Second, the US is working towards establishing an anti-Iran Arab-Israeli alliance. It is expected that the Trump administration will present in the new year the much anticipated “ultimate deal” to impose some form of settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and pave the way for the aforementioned Arab-Israeli alliance.

Normalisation is already under way between several Arab countries and Israel and we will see more of it in the coming year.

As these Middle East conflicts deepen, political alignments in the region create corresponding faultlines and increased polarisation. Since World War I, political divisions in the Middle East have always mirrored those of the world order du jour. During the Cold War, the Middle East was divided between the Soviet and US camps.

Today these divisions are deeper in nature and greater in number. They also reflect a degree of independence from the broad trends of the international system. Hence, instead of having two camps, we have now three: the so-called “resistance” axis of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Hezbollah, which is supported to a certain extent by Russia and China; the counter-revolution axis made up of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan and backed by Israel; and the pro-change axis of Qatar and Turkey.

These three axes are caught in the middle of a vicious conflict to decide the future of the Middle East.

All these issues are likely to dominate the political scene in the Middle East in 2019 and we probably won’t see the end of any of them. In 2018, the Middle East was one of the most volatile parts of the world and is likely to remain so in 2019.

The Kashmir Monitor is the fastest growing newspaper as well as digitial platform covering news from all angles.



Brazen statements on job shortage

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”


The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.


Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.


There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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