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International Affairs: Will a new India evade Pakistan’s trap?

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Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Pakistan again delayed its prosecution of 26/11 terrorist Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi. Not two full days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif reached an understanding on this contentious issue in Ufa, Russia, Pakistan reneged. It was not the first time that Pakistan backed off its commitments to prosecute Lakhvi, who is also a leader of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Pakistani foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz’s statement that India had to provide “more evidence” for the probe to continue was only the latest Sartaj_Aziz_(cropped)

delaying tactic by the Islamic Republic. Aziz might have claimed that what he said was consistent with the Modi-Sharif meeting, but it was a clear slap at India’s position that it already has given Pakistan all the information in its possession; and further, that what it has provided is compelling evidence that Lakhvi was the 26/11 mastermind.  Considering that Lashkar and Lakhvi are responsible for the murder of thousands of Pakistanis, logic would dictate that Pakistan would want to bring LeT’s reign of terror to an end.  After all, the primary duty of every government is to protect the nation’s people.

Evidently not for Pakistan.  Its official sponsorship of LeT, especially as an unofficial arm of its fight with India over Kashmir, has long been established.  Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted “It is important to end the farce of treating [terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba] as if they are truly free agents, acting on their own accord”; states like Pakistan give them “protection, succor, and support.”

Most knowledgeable observers long ago concluded that the Pakistani government, and especially its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were involved in the 26/11 attacks. Lakhvi’s trial would make Pakistani involvement official and force its government to take real action or face international censure.  So they demur.

However, a particularly important fact this time is that India has a different leader with a well-deserved reputation for being tough and thoroughly committed to ensuring that the days of Indian weakness and meekness are behind for its 1.25 billion people.  Modi foreshadowed this in a campaign speech he gave in the far northeastern state of Assam.  The people of Assam were concerned that the large influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was destroying the state’s physical and cultural environments.  He told them: “The people of Assam are troubled because of Bangladesh,” pm-modi_660_010315110259 and noting that he was from Gujarat which borders Pakistan he continued, “Pakistan is worried because of  me.”

Pakistan is worried about Modi, however, they might be testing him with this latest salvo. During his first 15 months in office, Modi’s foreign policy has focused on building bridges with other countries, including neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh, beginning with his unprecedented invitation for the leaders of both  countries to attend his swearing in ceremonies. Given their contentious history, Modi’s attempt to re-set  relationships based on a bold, assertive, and mutually beneficial Indian future takes a great deal of agility. Traditional allies and adversaries need to see an open hand of friendship at the same time knowing that it can turn into a clenched fist. Modi has been doing that, all the time having to demonstrate that he is neither the bully some foreigners and domestic opponents believe him to be, nor the foreign policy weakling his predecessors often proved to be.

In 2010, I was in South Asia and observed the ongoing farce that culminated with the Indian Congress government’s capitulation.  India and Pakistan were supposed to hold talks aimed at resolving the 26/11 issue.  Shortly before the talks were to be held, however, Pakistan said it would not participate. In a rambling diatribe, then-Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan was not behind attacks on its neighbor; India was. India, he said, was collaborating with the Taliban to de-stabilize. It is difficult to believe that Qureshi expected anyone except delusional partisans to believe what he said.

This was really a Pakistani shot across India’s bow; a strategic move intended to make themselves appear reasonable (‘we are in favor of talks’) without actually doing anything (such as resolving this issue or ending its support for terrorist attacks on India).

The Indian Congress government tried again and a “reasonable” Pakistan agreed; and true to form, only a few days before the talks, it threatened to

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Shah Mahmood Qureshi

break them off if they included discussion of the 26/11 allegations.  Congress gave in and agreed to the meaningless talks that are not even a footnote in the subcontinent’s history.  Worse, it reiterated that India—perhaps until now—would not press the issue of Pakistani connivance in the third deadliest attack in India’s history and one that killed more people than all attacks in the previous year combined.

How Prime Minister Modi responds will tell us a lot about his administration going forward.  He cannot afford to risk the relationships he has built thus far, which would be an outcome favorable to Islamabad; nor can he afford to let the matter drop.  Do not expect him to wage war over it, though proof of Pakistani involvement would constitute an act of war on its part. But do not expect him to capitulate as did his predecessors. He already tried the UN Security Council on a related matter; and although China blocked him, Modi found a great deal of international consensus in his favor, even from nations that generally find themselves on opposite sides of an issue including the US and Russia.

A more fruitful avenue would be an aggressive campaign to Pakistan’s most important sponsor:  the United States.  Modi has built up a tremendous amount of goodwill on Capitol Hill where it would not be difficult to convince key lawmakers in both the Senate and House to hold public hearings on the matter.

That public airing of the evidence should tilt in India’s favor and could end with a strong statement by the Congress—something Pakistan could not ignore without serious consequences to it relationship (and financial pipeline) with the US.  This is also a Congress that is bound and determined to oppose terrorism and the states that sponsor it. Modi has made serious inroads on US policy in South Asia. The hearings would further damage Pakistan’s standing in the US.  He might also appeal to President Barack Obama, who fashions himself as a peacemaker and might be induced to broker India-Pakistan talks on 26/11.

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Google Is Run Without Any Political Bias: Sundar Pichai

Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 after China insisted on censoring search results.

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Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing "examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices" on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Google CEO Sundar Pichai insisted Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee that he runs the U.S. technology giant without political preference.

“We find that we have a wide variety of sources, including sources from the left and sources from the right. And we are committed to making sure there are diverse perspectives,” Pichai told the panel.

Pichai defended the company after accusations from Republican lawmakers that Google has developed online search algorithms to suppress conservative voices.

“There are numerous allegations in the news that Google employees have thought about doing this, talked about doing this and have done it,” Republican committee chairman Robert Goodlatte said.

Google, Sundar Pichai
A demonstrator holds up a sign in the doorway as Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies at a House Judiciary Committee on greater transparency in Washington. VOA

Republican Congressman Lamar Smith cited a study by P.J. Media that concluded 96 percent of Google’s search results for President Donald Trump were from “liberal media outlets.”

“In fact, not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results. This doesn’t happen by accident but is baked into the algorithms. Those who write the algorithms get the results they must want and apparently management allows it.”

Smith also cited a study by “Harvard-trained psychologist” Robert Epstein that said Google’s alleged bias “likely swung” more than 2.5 million votes to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

“Google could well elect the next president with dire implications for our democracy,” Smith added.

Sundar Pichai, USA
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, arrives for the testimony of Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the internet giant’s privacy security and data collection, on Capitol Hill in Washington, VOA

“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”

Top committee Democrat Jerry Nadler said Republican accusations of bias is “a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy dreamed up by some conservatives that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias. As I’ve said repeatedly, no credible evidence supports this right-wing conspiracy theory.”

President Donald Trump is among those who have accused the company of censoring conservative content, tweeting in August that Google is “RIGGED” and that “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out.”

‘Dragonfly’ project

Pichai’s testimony came after he angered committee members in September by declining an invitation to testify about manipulation of online services by foreign governments to influence U.S. elections.

Google, Australia, encryption, Sundar pichai
A smartphone and computer screen display the Google home page. Australia is one step closer to forcing tech firms to give police access to encrypted data. VOA

The CEO was also questioned about the company’s planned “Dragonfly” project, a censored search engine for China and “next generation technology” that Congressman Smith said Google is “developing on Chinese soil.”

“This news raises a troubling possibility, that Google is being used to strengthen China’s system of surveillance, repression and control,” Smith said. “We need to know that Google is on the side of the free world, and that it will provide its services free of anti-competitive behavior, political bias and censorship.”

An international group of 60 human rights and media groups submitted a letter Tuesday to Pichai, calling on him to abandon the project, warning that personal data would not be safe from Chinese authorities.

Also Read: Australia Proposes To Strengthen Regulations of Facebook, Google

Reporters Without Borders, a signatory to the letter, said China ranked 176 out of 180 countries in its Freedom of the Press Index.

Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 after China insisted on censoring search results. (VOA)