Monday, August 22, 2016


India and Pakistan, the two regional rivals, formally applied for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers group (NSG) to be considered in its twenty-sixth meeting starting June 20th at Seoul. NSG was formed in response to the Indian nuclear test in 1974, and this 48-member organization aims to reduce nuclear proliferation by regulating the export of nuclear materials, and setting guidelines for international trade in nuclear energy technology. All NSG members are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The membership bids of the two countries dominated public discourse in South Asia for weeks prior to the meeting that ended on a sour note for both. Pakistan’s application, some analysts speculate, was sent only as a response to India’s bid – even though it was not the best timing for Pakistan. India’s application succumbed to China’s strong opposition to its non-NPT status. Since all NSG decisions are taken unanimously, neither of the applicants stood much of a chance for several reasons. As the meeting ended without granting India's membership request, despite heavy lobbying by Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi and strong support from some major Western powers, analysts contend it is only reasonable to defer for now and reconsider India’s bid later when the implications of political, legal and technical aspects of non-NPT participation have been thoroughly explored.
However, the applications from the two South Asian countries did ignite a robust debate on the possible inclusion of non-NPT states by adopting a criteria-based approach in the future. The statement released at the end of the meeting by the NSG supports this view: “Participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.”
India’s case for a favorable verdict rested primarily on its increasing energy needs fueled by its fast-growing economy and desire to meet the needs of its massive population. Indian officials cited the country’s track record of being engaged in NSG compliant initiatives and its willingness to have its nuclear facilities placed under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as proof of its commitment and credibility. They dismissed India’s non-NPT status as a hurdle to its inclusion, citing precedent set by France that remained an active NSG member for almost two decades before signing the NPT.
However, some reports indicate that India has not satisfactorily fulfilled its commitments to the objectives of non-proliferation, and instead has contributed to regional insecurity by significantly expanding its nuclear program. A letter by the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Jilani alluded to the same, citing public knowledge of reports on “significant upcoming fissile material facilities and build up of unsafeguarded weapon usable fissile material in Pakistan’s neighborhood raise larger security and stability concerns for the region.”
Pakistan, for its part, maintains a desire to remain engaged with non-proliferation efforts, and cites fulfillment of its growing energy needs as crucial to its stability and security – factors that have contributed to Pakistan’s application for NSG membership. In his recent letter to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Rela­tions, Pakistan’s Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani sought to build his case for Pakistan, reiterating that  “Pakistan has operated secure and safeguarded nuclear power plants for over 42 years. Safe and sustainable civil nuclear energy is essential for Pakistan’s future energy security and its economic development,”  
The reason Pakistan has tied its membership with India’s is because the power politics in South Asia demands a balance. Based on the delicate relationship these South Asian    rivals hold, Pakistani officials believe that if India is accepted despite its non-NPT status and Pakistan is left out, not only would it be an act of discrimination compounding the already contentious 2008 India-specific NSG waiver, but there is a big chance India might block Pakistan out of NSG permanently. This is unacceptable to both Pakistan and China. Andrew Small, author of The China-Pakistan Axis, admitted as much: “They don’t want to permanently entrench Pakistan’s exclusion from the NSG by admitting India without agreeing to a set of rules that would eventually admit Pakistan too”.
India has been quite incensed with China’s opposition, linking it to China’s fear of allowing India a bigger role and challenging its regional hegemony. A Times of India article also accused China of lacking its own credibility and being a “…major proliferator of nuclear and missile technology to North Korea and Pakistan”. China for its part, insists that it is only being fair by insisting on a criteria-based approach, and keeping NPT signatory status as a pre-requisite to entry in the NSG. Reuters has quoted Chinese foreign ministry officials as saying: “Applicant countries must be signatories of the NPT. This is a pillar, not something that China set. It is universally recognised by the international community,”
China has also linked India's application with that of Pakistan saying that both should be considered simultaneously, and garnered support from Turkey, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa for its stance. It does not help India’s argument that India is a nuclear-armed non-NPT, non-CTBT signatory state with several existing border disputes with most of its neighbors. 
The United States, however, fully supported India’s application, even as it declined to acknowledge Pakistan’s application. The U.S. also discouraged Pakistan’s lobbying efforts and advised Pakistani officials to put their case in front of the NSG members and let them decide through consensus, instead of seeking individual support. To some analysts, the United States’ strong advocacy for Indian NSG membership speaks to a short-sighted commercial and political agenda, in complete disregard of nuclear concerns and commitments expected of other states. Despite strong U.S. support, however, officials in the Indian camp reportedly remain somewhat dissatisfied not only with the outcome of the meeting, but with U.S. lobbying efforts on India’s behalf, reminiscing about the Bush administration’s strong lobbying in the past that ended in a favorable outcome. Other countries favoring India and supporting the U.S. effort include the U.K., France, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, Japan, Mexico, and Switzerland.  
Although, the NSG delayed its decision and did not block India’s entry into the group, India’s dampened hopes have not come without consequence. A statement reportedly released by the Indian government after the NSG meeting in Seoul said: “An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement.”, implying that any further cooperation is no more guaranteed. India’s involvement is deemed crucial to this initiative since the country is one of the world's largest carbon emitters. Clearly, India intends to use this as leverage where possible, and perhaps influence the NSG at a later date. 
The NSG is a group of focused, invested global players with common goals and approaches towards nuclear non-proliferation. As such, it is imperative for NSG’s success that undue pressure be ignored and due process followed for all decisions, especially when considering memberships for non-NPT states. A continuing discussion within the group will help clarify concerns and implications as well as benefits of such an allowance to the overall effectiveness of NSG, especially since all of its decisions are taken unanimously. As such, countries seeking memberships would find their interest better served by either waiting patiently till that discussion has taken place, or working actively towards improving their own nuclear credentials.  


The international multi-sport event, officially known as Games of the XXXI Olympiad, has historically drawn excited crowds from around the world giddy with eager anticipation, and the upcoming Olympics should have been no different. However, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 5-21 are being hailed in with reserve due to the country’s ongoing political, economic and social crises.
As the countdown to 2016 Rio Olympics continues, news updates from Brazil provide less than ideal publicity for the host nation of Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff, the first female President of the largest Latin American country, has been impeached and suspended for six months, the world’s eighth largest economy is seeing a recession that shows no signs of improving anytime soon, polluted waters at competition venues threaten Olympic participants’ health, and Zika virus is giving global public health officials nightmares. 
 For months President Dilma Rousseff has been fighting allegations against her, insisting she, “may have committed errors”, but she is no criminal. Mr. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, has supported her point of view: that her actions “are not crimes, but they are related to poor administration.”  Rousseff  has also challenged the impeachment proceedings against her as “fraudulent” and a “true blow to democracy”. To her credit, she is not facing allegations of stealing public money for personal use but of violating fiscal laws to cover her government’s budget shortfalls before her 2014 re-election. The fact that Brazil is experiencing its worst recession in a quarter of a century does not help her argument, though she blames the global economic crisis for Brazil’s economic struggles and insists she has always been a fighter and an honest advocate for her people.
With high unemployment in double digits, rate of inflation estimated at a 12-year high, and widespread corruption scandals in her Worker’s Party, the gradual shaping of public opinion against her is not all that surprising:  some estimates show that her approval ratings had nose-dived to 10% from almost 80% during the period between March 2013 and March 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, her former allies and opponents have blamed her dictatorial style of governance as one of the reasons for her gradual downfall. The resulting alienation of her longstanding political allies, many insist, has pushed them to the other side to support her impeachment proceedings.
Dilma Rousseff has in turn questioned the credibility of the advocates of her impeachment process who are themselves accused of corruption, including the three men from Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) who were in line of succession: Vice President Michel Temer, Speaker of Lower House Eduardo Cunha, and Senate president Renan Calheiros. Worse still, according to Transparency Brazil almost 60 percent of the 594 members of the Congress face serious charges including fraud, kidnapping, homicide, etc.  Now that Vice President Michel Temer has taken over as interim President, however, it is expected that no charges will be brought up against him or his allies.   
Besides the political and social turmoil Rio de Janeiro faces, the city is known for its high rate of crime as much as its culture and beauty. During the three weeks of the upcoming Olympics, the security of participants and spectators thronging the venues from around the world would be a huge task. The International Olympic committee (OIC) has expressed its concerns about overcrowding, drug trafficking and other crime in the areas called ‘favelas’ (slums) close to the Olympic events. Brazil’s commitment to the Olympics would require a special focus on this aspect of planning. If handled effectively, it would go also a long way in bringing lasting security to the local population long after the Olympic city is vacated.
Other potentially catastrophic health hazards that could jeopardize the success of Rio Olympics come from water pollution and Zika virus. An October 2015 U.S. Olympic Committee report quoted by ESPN expressed little confidence in the country’s ability to tackle the challenges in time: “we do not expect to anticipate major reductions [italics USOC] in bacterial or viral pathogen levels at the competition venues.” A more recent CNN report also detailed the amount of pollution in waters to be used for Olympic competitions clogged with debris and raw sewage as a major health risk for participants. Rio’s Olympic bid seven years ago had included a clear commitment to tackle the water pollution but the targets appear to be falling short. There have been reports of severe illness affecting athletes training at those venues. 
International Health agencies also fear that the spread of mosquito-borne Zika virus linked to severe brain defects in babies will accelerate due to close contact at the Olympics. The CDC has issued extensive warnings to expectant mothers regarding the dangers of exposure to Zika.  The virus poses a serious threat because the medical research on its spread and containment is still not sufficient, which makes it harder to control. A few athletes have publicly expressed concern, but it is unlikely anyone will withdraw. According to some reports, athletes feel so invested in the competition that they have likened withdrawing from Olympics to throwing their whole life’s work to waste.
So, Rio 2016 is moving forward as planned. Last October, when John Coates, International Olympic Committee vice president, spoke of Rio’s preparations as “worst ever”, he aroused much concern among the local and international stake holders. However, CNN’s latest reports suggest that despite the political upheaval Brazil is facing, it is on track with 98 percent of the venues ready and within budget. With the recent changeover at the helm due to impeachment of Rousseff, the skepticism about the future of the Rio Olympics had resurfaced but the president of the International Olympics Committee, Thomas Bach, was quick to express his confidence in the new interim government right after Michel Temer took office, and said, “there is strong support for the Olympic games in Brazil and we look forward to working with the new government to deliver successful games in Rio this summer.” Though Dilma Rousseff’s strong support and advocacy were instrumental in securing the Olympics bid for her country, Michel Temer will be gracing the President’s designated seat at the opening ceremony.  
The international stake holders remain committed to supporting Brazil through these trying times in any way possible, even with filling the spectator seats. For over 50 percent tickets sold so far, several media reports have detailed a lack of interest from the local spectator due to Brazil’s internal instability – at the same time, however, it is encouraging that these ticket sales have been overwhelmingly international. With several months to go, sales for Brazilians are expected to pick up as well.

Despite everything happening in their country, the Brazilians hope to see a welcome respite in the form of an exciting and colorful Olympics event, as well as lasting benefits post Olympics, including increased tourism and positive effects of investment in stable infrastructure and security etc. For everything to happen, however, political stability is a pre-requisite. At this point, though hopes are pinned on the success of 2016 Olympics, Michel Temer’s policies for economic success and the suspended leader Dilma Rousseff’s future, however, remains uncertain. The next six months will be crucial in determining the success and future – or lack thereof – of both. The world is watching.   


Just over two weeks ago, many of us were struggling to make sense, as police in riot gear stood guard watching armed protestors gather outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix (ICCP) in Arizona.
Angry protestors, automatic weapons, anti-Islam slogans, Draw Muhammad contest are a dangerous mix, if ever there was one. Thankfully, the protest ended without incident.
Then, three days later, the ICCP hosted a counter-protest of sorts, to promote interfaith harmony. Attended by more than 200 interfaith guests bearing flowers, the Love not Hate rally was hailed... read full article here


Whenever we are confronted with controversy in the public sphere, the need for meaningful dialogue is reignited. The recent tragedy in Garland, Texas, over a contentious cartoon competition has once again stirred the debate to define hate speech and provocation vs. the right to free speech.
While merits and demerits of each position remain unresolved, fortunately, condemnation of violence is the default position held by the majority on all sides.
On May 16, the Islamic Center of New England hosted an interfaith event titled "Learn about Muhammad" at the Clifford H. Marshall School Auditorium in Quincy. Although the event was planned much before the Garland incident, it came as a timely reminder... Read full article here