St Petersburg

Strelna: A War and A Quarrel

The US brought the tremors of a distant war to this picturesque Baltic islet this today and Indian sails lay a little knocked of wind as New Delhi’s effort to build consensus with BRICS leaders against US liquidity withdrawals floundered. Three BRICS nations — Russia, China and South Africa — virtually vacated India’s concerns on adverse spillover effects of the US economic policies saying the problems were for New Delhi to handle, not for the collective.

US President Barack Obama has arrived here holding the world to an obligation on Syrian strikes several big nations gathered here are unwilling to undertake. “My credibility is not on the line, the world’s credibility on the line…the world had set the red lines when 98 percent of the nations condemn the use of chemical weapons.”


Half his campaign in the US Congress won with the Senate’s endorsement, Obama is now at hair’s breadth distance from pressing the button on Syria. Obama’s unyielding host, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be gritting harder at his jaws. “Any unilateral military action against Syria will be deemed and act of aggression,” he warned just before he welcomed G20 leaders at the majestic entrance to the Konstantinovsky Palace this afternoon, “There is no evidence they used chemical weapons.”

War rumbles are new to the G 20 forum, purely economic of makeup, but with Obama and Putin stepping onto the same stage, it was bound to shake. Bilateral atmospherics have been tense coming into this summit. The US underlined Obama did not intend meeting Putin one-on-one on the sidelines, an almost routine event at such multilaterals. The Russians made it clear they were going to leverage their status as the G 20 hosts to signpost their opposition to US brinkmanship over Syria.

The only significant sideline that did unfold today was a mini-summit of BRICS leaders, where India failed to rally support for its call to restraint on capital flow volatility triggered mainly by the US. India claimed that BRICS leaders had “reiterated concerns expressed at the Durban Summit in March regarding the unintended negative spillovers of unconventional monetary policies of certain developed economies”.

The claim found no consonance in individual statements emerging from leaders of some other BRICS member states, who seemed to be saying that India’s economic difficulties were essentially her own and she should take steps to tackle them.

Reuters quoted the Chinese Vice Premier Zhu Guagyao as saying, “We see temporary difficulties of some BRICS countries, mainly as difficulties in terms of international balance of payments…the policy response to such difficulties include increasing interest rates and devaluing currencies.”

The Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak  appeared to brush aside the Indian effort to rally consensus saying the issues raised amounted to “individual problems not concerning BRICS as a whole.” The South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan, was downright dismissive: “We don’t know what the proposal is, this is India’s initiative to resolve India’s issues,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked whether discordant BRICS voices meant India lay isolated in its concerns over the negative impact of US monetary policies, foreign secretary Sujata Singh said: “I can only tell you what I heard and I heard all (BRICS) leaders expressing concern on unconventional monetary policies. Our official release says concerns were reiterated by BRICS leaders, it is a common position.”

Setting the stage for St Petersburg, India had raised the pitch to secure wider agreement between emerging economies on speaking out against unconventional monetary policies. Economic Affairs secretary Arvind Mayaram had expressed the hope India’s position will find traction among BRICS and G20 nations and said, “There is no reason why our voice should not be heard. I do believe if our voices are strong and clear, we will be heard.”

The Indian reluctance to accept lack of consensus among BRICS notwithstanding, different voices emerging from the platform may well have belied Mayaram’s optimism. The Indian contingent remains optimistic, however, on being able to lobby G 20 nations more effectively. “Wait to hear what emerges from the G 20 on the level of international cooperation among emerging economies on the adverse impact of unconventional monetary policies,” an official said, “The different voices could be misleading because their contexts they are responding to may be different.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself reiterated his fears adverse impacts, telling G20 leaders at the commencement of the summit, “The world economy is not in good shape.  There is some good news of a strengthening of growth in some industrialised countries, but it is not broad based…     The G 20 is the premier international forum for discussing international economic issues. I think we need to reflect on why we are having less success in restoring global growth than we had hoped.”

Global economic corrections in the part of developed nations isn’t a battle he is giving up on easily. His intended audience, though, may be engrossed on the grim prospect of a more immediate battle. It is unlikely Obama and Putin will part from Strelna agreed on Syria.

2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: An Inch of Metal for Miles of Motherland

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 7 and last. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999

Mushkoh: Soldiers seldom make wars, politicians do; soldiers perish trying to end them.

In the end they just become dead weights loaded on the backs of unknowing mules, their dignity wrapped in tattered blankets. If they are fortunate, these blankets will somewhere have a little badge of honour pinned, an inch of metal for miles of motherland.

With soldiers returning from the recapture of Tiger Hill
With soldiers returning with Pakistani military ware from the recapture of Tiger Hill

Brigade-Major Rajeev Srivastava was in no mood to receive us. We had arrived at his camp deep in Mushkoh valley uninvited and unannounced. He was busy and he could well have sent us back. But he had ushered us into his tent and ordered tea. He was hard at work on an unsteady little desk piled up with files and papers. The tent was steaming like a sauna in mid-afternoon. “How have you managed to come here?” he asked, scribbling on furiously. “My orders are to allow no media personnel here. If they reach here, I have orders to escort them to Sonemarg, right out of the war zone.” Continue reading “Kargil: An Inch of Metal for Miles of Motherland”

2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: Winter Clues to the Portents of Summer

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 4. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999

Along the high and desolate road to Kargil

Kargil/Srinagar: For a few weeks midsummer, between the melting of snow and the onset of snow Kargil is awash with yellow roses. Kargilis have an odd passion for picking them and sticking them into their mouths. They make a queer comic sight, like overgrown babies suckling on oversize soothers. But faith turns on its own illogic. Kargilis chew on yellow roses in the belief that it is good for the body and the soul and the future. Continue reading “Kargil: Winter Clues to the Portents of Summer”

2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: One Side of a Bleeding Fence

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 3. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999

Among some of the friendliest creatures on the Kargil frontier
Among some of the friendliest creatures on the Kargil frontier

Kargil: For most of us, Kargil was the biggest story we had been on. It didn’t take the daily whoops of the youthful Gaurav Sawant of The Indian Express — “Guys, guys I’m so thrilled it’s my thirty-third front page byline in a row, I have never had it so good” — to make us realise this. War hadn’t ever happened between two nuclear powers. And this war had happened to everybody — the army and the media — quite suddenly, without chance for preparation. Initially, and fortuitously for some of us, the army was too busy getting its act together to bother about the media. They tried to impose restrictions for a while but realised they would be better served by organized media exposure. Kargil became the most freely reported war — and the first televised — on the subcontinent. Continue reading “Kargil: One Side of a Bleeding Fence”

2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: A Sky Stunned by Artillery

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 2. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999.

Sanjak: Batalik is the step-child  of the frontier. Drass gets attention because it holds the key to the national highway, supply line to Siachen and Leh . Batalik’s only highway is the turbulent Indus which carries only silt and anyway flows into the Pakistan.

Leaving Sanjak the morning after the bombing of the skies
Leaving Sanjak the morning after the bombing of the skies

It was only much later that Ishaq would tell us that Batalik was home. As a child he had played in its famed apricot orchards and frolicked in the Indus and the many streams that feed its flow. We had spent too long one evening in Batalik chatting to soldiers returning from the battle for the Muntho Dalo ridge (above Batalik). It was dark by the time we were ready to leave which meant, in effect, that we could not leave. Continue reading “Kargil: A Sky Stunned by Artillery”