As I sit here watching the rain pour down in London, it feels like any other tropical storm except it is also cold. I constantly look up to the skies for any break in the clouds. I also hope to see a special aircraft flying from India on the way to Washington DC. The plane is carrying Manmohan Singh on his first state visit to the US. But my expectations of this trip are rock bottom. I had more expectations from the G20, or even   summit. This trip is going to be all about symbolism, about reiterating stuff that has been many times in the past, about just keeping in the status quo in so many ways. At the end of this week, it’s going to be like a Hollywood movie which I sometimes call as ‘good’ but not sure what it was really about. I am going to try and make sense of some of the issues that might be on the menu.

US and India have steadily upgrading their relationship in the past 18 years or so. US understands the language of money better than any other country in this world. For the US , India signifies money and it also signifies less effort (as compared to China) to get to that money. Less effort in the sense of political and policy shenanigans that need to happen on the side for that money to come out. I use the word shenanigans because I like it (reminds me of 80s sex romps) and also because Obama’s treatment of the Dalai Lama issue was nothing short of one ! So US absolutely have to be in India no matter what and it is in India even in areas it never though it could ever be (defence industry, nuclear energy etc). Yes there is scope to enter even more areas and make even more money but all in due time. So in the economic sense not sure what Obama has to tell to Manmohan that he doesn’t know already. Obama is committed to Asia , as is Manmohan committed to the ASEAN and so there is already a lot of common ground. I can’t see a major new agreement coming through.

On the issue of Kashmir which is now again quite dear to the US because their friends in Pakistan like to use it from everything ranging from their need for a N-bomb to the problems with Taliban. I wonder what will happen to Pakistan when the Kashmir issue does get resolved. So there will be the usual statement to get Kashmir resolved through bilateral means and India will probably update the US on what is happening with the latest on the back channel diplomacy.

But the one issue which might be interesting will be the Afghanistan issue. This is not because Obama has a burning desire to consult India, but more because Obama ia about to arrive at a decision and India has economic interests in Afghanistan and plays the soft power role. It also has reasonably good relations with Iran and there could be the scope of these two countries joining up forces against the Taliban with the quiet blessing of the US which needs all the help it can get in Afghanistan. Manmohan was interviewed by Newsweek just before his trip and there are two things that stand out for me. One that the majority of the interview is about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran ( the 3 major worries of the US in Central and South Asia) and also about what has been left unsaid. I am still not sure exactly what was the Iranian foreign minister doing in India just before this trip. The second bit was about the economy and how little attention was paid by the interviewer to economic matters.

Which finally brings me to Pakistan. Whatever I read about Pakistan, it seems to point towards a change of power. Zardari and his clique seems to be on the way out and Nawaz is the only other popular politician around, assuming that the army doesn’t want to come back to power in these politically correct times. It has all the trappings of power anyways without the abuse. That could be another point of discussion of what does India think about Nawaz. Both him and Manmohan speak Punjabi but that is where the similarity ends. They both seem to come from completely gene pools. Manmohan is the economist turned reluctant politician who can write theories of trade in his sleep, Nawaz thinks he has a God-given right to govern and is a businessman although his style may not be too endearing to an economist. But better India deal with a Lahore based Punjabi than a Karachi based Sindhi. I am half and half of either so I know what I am talking about !

So the visit is going to be Obama talking about a special/really special/deeply special – you get the drift- with India, the state banquet in cold DC outdoors and the wives talking about how to bring up daughters. If I was a fly on the tandoori chicken I would be paying attention to the Pashminas.

So much has happened since I last wrote. But in my mind all this had already happened and the only difference is that it has only now got reported in the news. Yes i know it all and I know it before it gets reported. My other name is Zeus, master of Gods, and I gave birth to Athena on a sunny day while sipping ouzo.

My favourite news is the crowning of G20 as the primary country grouping on economic and financial matters. G20 still has too much of Europe in it. Including EU and excluding UK it still has 4 seats. Also not sure what will happen when some new countries enter the top 20. Will countries be dropped off the grouping and what will that do to investor confidence in that country. G8 although will still discuss political and security issues, that is the role of the Security Council. G8 saw the writing on the wall in an ever-increasing font size, but to their credit they did chose to see now and not 5 years later. The latter strategy is now being employed by the Security council. Also there are still a lot of issues that the west leaders still dont see – unfair practices is one, immigration is another and climate change is the big daddy of them all. I could go on but Zeus is not known for ranting. He is prone to resolving issues with a discus throw or launching a thunderbolt. Neither of these I posses and so I will not compare myself with Zeus anymore.

Then within the G20 is the G2. I am highly amused with the headlines of how China is going to take over the world, 3 trillion of reserves, future of the communist party etc etc. I wonder how much of this surplus is because of American consumption and of its ‘allies’. On the other hand there is a relatively lack of Chinese consumption of American made stuff. If the Americans cant make anything that the Chinese want then that needs a serious rethink. Maybe the world has shifted from Americans trying to understand what Americans want and then trying to export it to the rest of the world (what americans want today, the world wants tomorrow) to Americans really trying to understand what the world wants. Maybe the American consumer is not a barometer of the world demand as it was before. A good start will be with America ceasing to look for signs of Chinese collapse. Every year there is some story of how the communist party is losing its grip on its people. Then next year and 1 trillion dollars later the old story is forgotten and a new one is cooked up.

Maybe Obama can move on from calling China ‘not a friend, not an enemy but a competitor’. Not sure what that means really. But even in recognising China as a competitor is an admission that the world is moving to bipolar and multipolar states. What does that mean for the countries that are on the margin, who are either openly against the US or only with the US because the other option is usually to be under sanctions of one form or the other. One example that comes to mind is Pakistan. Its ruling class (politicians, army, landholders) have been forced by the US to wage a war with the Taliban against their wishes. All this for a couple of billion dollars of aid a year. During the cold war they got much more with no questions and didn’t have to hear the US calling India its ‘strategic ally’. Soon to add to the music will be IMF which will probably ask Pakistan to expand its tax base, reform land ownership. It would rather pledge its soul to the new devil in town , also known as an all weather friend’. For some land and dams China will give Pakistan the money to keep the status quo. Pakistan can either take the money or use that threat against the US. It could still do it if it can survive for the next 10 years in its current condition.

But the bigger question is what will G2 mean to the world ? what does it mean to have a superpower rise? Most of the world’s population was too young or not born to see the early decades of the cold war. How will America respond to its waning influence ? One sign that is already visible is that it is clearly focussing more on Asia. It wants to be part of the proposed East Asia grouping. The other bit is ofcourse it will want the G2 to quickly become a G3 or a G4. There is no shortage of superpower ambition around the world and that only needs a little encouragement !

Last night I saw Charlie Wilson’s war. I have seen it before and every time I see it I am amazed at how easy is it for a few smart people with a lot of money to start a war sitting thousands of miles away. Once the war is over the smart people move on to the next challenge. Almost like moving onto the next level on a gaming console. I went to bed thinking it is so easy that it is unfair. I woke up in the morning to Hillary Clinton calling Pakistan a global threat and it was almost like a continuation of the movie. Its the same area, the same problem, except this time over the good guys have become the bad guys. But I wonder what is she really trying to achieve by this. Is it to get the attention of Pakistan leadership, is it to put on the world agenda, or is it something else. This almost feels like the beginning of the buildup to Iraq where the talk was then of how many nukes rather than if they have any.Also this statement to me is different than the earlier ones which focussed on the northern areas and on the border with Pakistan. The statement called on the Pakistani people to speak out “forcefully” against their government’s policy. I am not sure what this means really.

Most developed countries are seized of this threat of Pakistan. The UK has almost developed an annual ritual to catch some Pakistani nationals and deport them back, but even they don’t call Pakistan a ‘global threat’.  But some other people have a slightly different take on things. So what does Hillary know that no one else knows ? And more importantly, what does she plan to do about it. Is this setting the ground for another military takeover by the Pakistan army ? Will the army be forced to finally look away from its eastern frontier and face Taliban ? I suspect that the  answers to these questions are coming very soon.

The news is full of the upcoming coronation.  I can’t seem to be able to get away from it.  If I meet someone who hasn’t heard about it my question to them is,  to borrow from the tacky Australian tourism advert, where the bloody hell were you ?

I ask because that is where I want to be to get away from it.  This doesn’t qualify as news to me. I really don’t want to know the hotel rates in downtown DC or if Obama is a combination of Lincoln, JFK and Reagen all put together. No one has explained to me why all this is relevant to the current debate. It disgusts me to see this as all one big party when we face serious issues which needed to be acted upon yesterday. And why is it so relevant that it has to push out news from the various hell holes on earth such as Gaza, upcoming elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that these were more or less the same issues that were in front of incumbent president and the one before him. All the incumbent one did was to add Iraq to the list.  I loved his exit speech and perversely I can attribute the same words to Osama when he is on his death bed. Didn’t Saddam also say something similar ? I acted per my conscience and to protect my people. Everyone claims to act as per their conscience and to protect their people.  But I digress.

To go back to my point about issues being the same across different presidencies. As per the prevailing thought , and as per one of the famous speech being repeated to death, these issues facing us will not be resolved in one or two presidencies or even in our life time. So then why the focus on this one coronation ? What is Obama going to achieve in the short duration that he will be president. Why don’t the media organisations focus on getting their reporters into Gaza to get the inside view of things instead of depending on Israeli press handouts, or why not focus on Somalia and ask why inspite of US interventions the country is still what it is. Or how inspite of US sanctions against Sudan, a US citizen is able to buy a huge tract of land in Sudan as an ‘investment’ . Surely, by doing this the media will be able to better help the president, rather than hanging on to every thing he says or doesn’t say and then analysing it to death by comparing which past president has said it.

The handsome man pictured below is now the newly crowned king of the world. He hasn’t even shaken off the ‘elect’ bit from his title and leaders of the world are queuing up to call him. All sorts of top lists are being formed. Who is in the top 2, 5, 10, 15, and 20? Who called who? How long was the conversation? What was discussed and more importantly, what was not? Then there is the second class which has to satisfy them with letters only.  There is this entire spin around the whole thing as the world hangs onto every word of the new king.

This reminds me of the Delhi Durbars that happened in the early 20th century. All the kings, princes and people who mattered from all over India got together in Delhi to meet the new emperor and empress of India. It has now been a century since then and so much water has flown down the Yamuna, Nile and Amazon but this bit of queuing up to see the new king of the world has remained the same. The only thing that has changed is the mean of communication.  The heads of states across the world still continue to jockey for attention with the new king, draw his attention to their problems and to their version of the issues facing the world.

And then we wonder how the previous king thought he could get away with whatever it is that he wanted to do. And to be fair to him he did get away with it. Anybody whose first vision of world diplomacy is to see this huge line of world leaders queuing outside his door, dying to speak to him so they could show off to the rest of the world, would think like this.

But what worries me even more is that no one talks about this at all. This is all deemed to be all right and the acceptable view of things.

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Indeed.

As a child I always wanted to make adult decisions. I wanted to participate in the affairs of my small family and take decisions which would have far reaching affects for us all. I used to look forward to our regular family meetings. Usually I was never invited to these, I was too young, too disconnected or disinterested. If I was invited it was because I had to be taken to task for bad marks, too many phone calls or neighbours complaining of strange loud music. But this one meeting was different. I was asked to state my view on if I wanted to immigrate to the US. I said no, my sister said no, dad wasn’t sure and mom I think wanted to go. In the end the majority prevailed and we didn’t go. Needless, to say my life would have taken a completely different course had I said yes. Not sure why I said no though.

I had grown up idolising the US. It was to me where everyone went and had a good time. It was the land of free and Levis jeans. It was where my dearest uncle went every year and brought me goodies. As I grew older I realised it was the only country in the world where if you worked hard and played by the rules you could be successful and rise up to the top of your profession. I believed in the american dream. It was a melting pot for cultures and I even loved the accent ! It is with the same earnestness that I have followed the last couple of US presidential campaigns.

However, I am now a little irritated with the campaigns. I am irritated because these campaigns show me a side of the US that I never wanted to see. I never wanted to know more about the voters who elected and re elected Bush junior and who are now determined to elected McCain. The ignorance among the voters is more dangerous than all the nuclear bombs of the world put together.

I am horrified that there is no left in the american political sphere. I am not a leftist by any standards but it is a fact that the left and right are important in any political system to balance each other and to strengthen the centre.  I think in most mature political systems of the world the Democrats would be considered as centre right and Republicans as far right. The only decent candidate in the fray, Obama, is labelled a socialist ! Since when did socialism teach its followers to raise records amount of money in their election campaign ? If this is the state of the world’s oldest democracy and the ‘leader of the free world’ , I have no hope for either democracy or the free world.

I am glad I said no.