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Khashoggi murder: Will Saudi Arabia’s isolation continue?

Arti Ghargi

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Khashoggi death triggered Business world deserting Saudi investment event. But will Saudi’s isolation be continued?

 

The death of Jamal Khashoggi- the protest against which has become synonymous with the protest against the Desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- has snowballed into a full-blown trouble with obvious ramification on the international level. It has drawn condemnation from the West and a severe dent to its reputation as a budding reformative country. Now, the international scepticism over Khashoggi’s death and Riyadh’s culpability has had the business world isolating the upcoming investment summit. In a what can be called as a Public Relation disaster, the biggies of the business and finance sphere have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative conference which was self-proclaimed by Saudi Arab as the “Davos in the Desert”.

Khashoggi

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On October 2, Khashoggi entered the Istanbul Consulate while his fiancée waited for him outside. The CCTV footage of which is now is being flashed on every TV channel and social media. However, he never came out. Initially, what was believed to be a kidnapping incident, soon turned into a murder mystery as the Turkish officials said he was killed inside. The Turkish officials even claimed that they had audio and visual evidence of the 15 men (believed to be Saudi men) speaking in Arabic and trying to intimidate, torture Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi government though after initial weak denials have admitted that he was killed after “discussions” turned physical.

But, who was Jamal Khashoggi and why were Saudi officials after him?

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

The 59 years-old Jamal Khashoggi hails from one of the influential and affluent families of Middle East. His most family members have made their name in either business or literary world. His families had also been one of the closest to the Saudi royals. Jamal, however, was one of the sternest critics of Saudi Arabia’s current leadership. He had served at the top Saudi news channels and Newspapers. His journalistic stint also includes the interview of Osama bin Laden who went on to become al-Qaeda chief in the 1980s. Due to his criticism of the government and rampant religious extremism, he was oftentimes fired from his job.

Jamal Khashoggi

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In between his journalism career, Khashoggi also served as an adviser to the Saudi ambassador to London, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former long-serving intelligence chief. Then, in 2005, when the prince was appointed the Saudi envoy to the U.S., Khashoggi joined him as a media aide. After the Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman began running the show, Khashoggi constantly criticised him for the shrinking space for freedom of speech under his regime. He ended up self-imposing exile on himself after he told his friends and family that he feared for his life in Saudi Arabia. Since last year, he was employed with The Washington Post as a columnist and commentator on the geopolitics of middle-east. Many of his columns were critical of the Saudi leadership which would be translated into Arabic as well. In one of his last columns, he urged Prince Mohammad to end the war he started on Yemen more than three and a half years ago: “The longer this cruel war lasts in Yemen, the more permanent the damage will be. The people of Yemen will be busy fighting poverty, cholera and water scarcity and rebuilding their country. The crown prince must bring an end to the violence and restore the dignity of the birthplace of Islam.”

The Saudi Explanation:

The Saudi authorities initially distanced themselves from the death of Khashoggi. Prince Mohammad talking to Bloomberg in Riyadh a day after Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance said that the Saudi government is very keen to know what happened to him.” His brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, who’s the kingdom’s ambassador to Washington, called Khashoggi a “friend” and praised him for dedicating “a great portion of his life to serve his country.”

Khashoggi

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It wasn’t until Friday that Riyadh admitted Mr Khashoggi was dead. The authorities said he was killed in a “fist fight” in its Istanbul consulate. Saudi aid a fight broke out between Mr Khashoggi, who had fallen out of favour with the Saudi government, and people who met him in the consulate – ending with his death. It claims that investigations are going on and so far 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested.

However, some anonymous Saudi officials have revealed it to the Reuters news agency that he was indeed killed inside the consulate and the body was disposed of as a part of the cover-up.

World’s Response:

After the reports emerged that Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly murdered in the Istanbul consulate, Saudi Arabia faced a strong verbal ire from the countries around the world especially the West. Even the Saudi Arabia allies have criticised and sought more explanation from Saudi.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised Riyadh’s explanation as “inadequate”, the UK foreign office described it as “a terrible act” and demanded people responsible for this to be held accountable. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded saying many questions “remain unanswered”. The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called for the truth to be made clear.

The United States’ stand, however, has been guarded. While the US President Donald Trump said he is not satisfied until they find the answer, he avoided clarity on sanctions against Saudi. He said that sanctions were a possibility quickly adding that halting an arms deal would “hurt us more than it would hurt them”. It is to be noted that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law has close business ties with Saudi Arabia.

India has yet not taken cognizance of the issue and has so far given no response or comment.

Business world isolates the Riyadh event:

The controversy surrounding Khashoggi’s death and alleged state culpability has taken a heavy toll on Saudi Arabia’s big Public Relation exercise that is to be held at country’s capital later this month. Many business groups have already withdrawn from the Riyadh conference. Some of the business big-wigs that have pulled out of the event are The World Bank, The Financial Times, CNN, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Ariana Huffington- the LA Times owner, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Sir Richard Branson, Viacom and even Uber (which has the Saudi Kingdom as the investor) announced their withdrawal. Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund head, is listed as a speaker at the conference, however, her presence at the event is not confirmed. On the other hand, the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, said he still planned to attend.

Khashoggi

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The conference was looked forward to from the point of view of the Vision 2030 document presented by the Saudi crown prince MBS. The vision document laid out plans to make the Saudi economy less dependent on oil exports and focused on substantial growth. Many projects in the vision document heavily relied on overseas investment. The conference would have been an excellent PR for the country that is being projected as reforming under MBS. With the event now being deserted by the Business community, it is indeed an international embarrassment for the country.

Will Saudi’s isolation continue?

Saudi has often been criticised for its Islamic conservatism and lack of reverence to Human Rights. There have been demands for more accountability from the Saudi kingdom. However, as the Middle-Eastern country had deep pockets that satisfied the West’s thirst for capital, no serious action was taken against the country. The shine of capital inflow from the Saudi Kingdom blinded the West and governments around the world to its Human Rights violations. Khashoggi’s death changed that. But will Saudi’s isolation be continued? Hardly anyone differs that it may not.

As Mihir Sharma points out in this Bloomberg column, many countries do not want to run the risk of being seen on the side of the bad guy (Saudi) at the moment. He asks an important question,”- that are we going to somehow isolate Saudi Arabia from the global economy?” Adding the most obvious answer further, “That’s not going to work as long as the country remains is the world’s largest oil exporter.” Defence and strategic expert, Seshadri Chari says, “It is a catch-22 situation for the West. It cannot isolate Saudi Arabia as it represents the Sunni world as against Shia power representative Iran. Since WW2 the US and Europe have not been able to balance both.” He further adds, “Ironically, both these countries are the biggest energy suppliers to most of the countries around the world.”

khashoggi

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Sharma further points out, “The Saudis are already the biggest investors in Silicon Valley start-ups; AI industry insiders say they will likely end up owning crucial intellectual property going forward.” Not only the big businesses but the Saudi’s are also funnelling money to various governments around the world for various infrastructure projects. The Saudis are pouring $20 billion the into U.S. infrastructure. Even India’s big renewable energy push — 175 gigawatts of capacity by 2022, of which 100 gigawatts is meant to be solar — depends crucially on at least $100 billion of Saudi investment in the sector.

He further argues, “Across the world, long-term capital is thin on the ground and absolutely everyone wants it. The Saudis represent the motherlode.” Thus, it is hard for the world to isolate or even abandon the Saudi Kingdom who is sitting on the power source of funds and oil. As Mr Chari says, “The supposed isolation is temporary and once the dust settles down, it will be back to business.”

Opinion

Is Modi government playing with fire with the Savarna Reservation?

Arti Ghargi

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We have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster.

 

On Monday, the Modi cabinet raised the heat amidst the ongoing winter session of parliament by clearing 10% reservation for the economically weaker upper castes. The cabinet decided to amend the Constitution so that the “economically backward” upper castes will get 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

As the news took over the TV screens and print columns, it was projected as a “Master Stroke” by the Modi government. Some even called it a “Surgical Strike” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Considering the Savarna backlash that the government received over the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (amendment) act, this might have been a last-ditch attempt by the ruling BJP to save its Upper Caste voters. Incidentally, the upper caste Hindus are its core vote banks. Thus, this move was being seen as vote bank motivated.

The question, however, remains whether it is actually effective or ground? Whether it will pay the electoral dividends the party is hoping for? Will the move achieve consolidation of both, Dalit and Savarna voters in favour of BJP?

BJP may hope the answer is in affirmative. But a quick scanning of pages of India’s political history can easily tell that it is otherwise. On the contrary, we have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster in the immediate elections.

Karpoori Thakur:

Karpoori Thakur was the first political leader to have felt the heat on the ballot box due to his decisions regarding the reservation policies. The socialist leader who was Bihar’s first non-Congress Chief minister first introduced the reservation for the economically backward upper castes in the country. His decision was based on the findings of the Mungeri Lal Commission. This commission had suggested a total 26% reservation in the state, of which 20% were for the OBC, 3% for the women of any background and 3% reservation for the poor Savarnas.

Karpoori Thakur decided to implement the reservation formula in Bihar in November 1978. However, he decided to divide the OBC category into two other sub-categories for the distribution of quotas, i.e. Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Backward Class (BC). While EBC were allotted 12% quota, BC was allotted 8%.

Electorally, it proved to be disastrous for the leader. He had to endure major upper caste backlash for this move. Within a week, he had to vacate the CM chair. The reservation policy he introduced is popularly known as “Karpoori Thakur Formula”. The policy was halted in 1992-93 until the Supreme Court quashed it. However, with the Modi government’s new reservation card, the demand for implementing the formula in government jobs and educational opportunities has started gaining pace in Bihar.

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VP Singh:

Who can forget the political debacle VP Singh brought upon himself by announcing the implementation of Mandal commission report. Not only the country burned for months following violent protests but the controversial move proved to be a fatal blow to VP Singh’s political career.

In August 1990, seven years after the Mandal Commission report on the identification of OBC’s based on 11 parameters, VP Singh in his independence day address declared his intention of implementing the commission’s suggestions. The report proposed OBCs to be given 27% reservation making the total number of reservation go up to 49%.

This move sparked a series of student protest. The Self-immolation committed by more than 50 students across the country and suicide attempts by more than 100 people marked the end of the VP Singh’s minority government. Just 11 months after he took oath as the Prime Minister, VP Singh had to step down and was succeeded by Chandra Shekhar.

reservation

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Bhupinder Huda:

Having witnessed the fire sparked by the controversial reservation policies, Congress (UPA) for most of its term kept the reservation off its priority. Until 2014, when it made a last-ditch attempt to win the election, touched the reservation issue.

On the face of elections, Congress proposed to include Jats in Other Backward Class category. The Jat reservation only resulted in violent protests and hartals in the state. The Supreme Court eventually rejected it. The Congress, as we know, was reduced to only 1 seat.

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Prithviraj Chavan:

The Congress-NCP coalition government in the state of Maharashtra too followed the suite off Haryana government. The Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government announced 16% reservation for the Marathas who have been demanding reservation since long. The move did not prove much fruitful as the coalition had to face dismal numbers in the immediate assembly election.

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These and many other cases in the past prove that any decision with regards to the reservation is equal to playing with fire. Thus, it begs a question whether the Modi government has learnt the time and again tested lesson provided by Indian Politics. With the recent decision, it seems it hasn’t or perhaps, it has chosen to ignore it.

Will it turn out to be political suicide for Modi government as well? Or will he be successful in breaking the jinx?

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Opinion

Don’t need Congress, SP-BSP strong enough to defeat BJP in UP: Kiranmoy Nanda

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Kolkata | Samajwadi Party (SP) national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda on Sunday said his party, together with the BSP, is strong enough to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming general election and there is no need of an “insignificant” force like the Congress to make it happen.

He, however, hinted that the SP-BSP alliance might just leave aside the Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies, represented in the Lok Sabha by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi respectively.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is an insignificant force, so we are not even thinking of including or excluding it. The SP-BSP alliance is the main force which will take on the BJP. The Congress might be there in one or two seats, it is for the Congress to decide what position it wishes to see itself in,” Nanda told PTI in an interview.

His comments came two days after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav moved closer to finalise a seat-sharing formula, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Both the leaders held a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Nanda felt the Congress was yet to adjust to the mantra of “alliance politics” as it was unwilling to “leave even an inch to its allies in states where it is strong, but expects others to share their pound of flesh with it in states where it is a weak force”.

Asked whether keeping the Congress out of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh would be an advantage for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, “From our past experiences, we can say, in cases where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP alliance, we did not face any problem in defeating the BJP. The Congress’s vote share is completely insignificant.

“Rather there have been instances where the Congress had not put up its candidate in a seat and the BJP got its vote share.”

Nanda cited the examples of the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP nominees, but that did not deter the alliance from defeating the BJP.

Referring to the recently-held Assembly polls in five states, he said had the Congress worked out an alliance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP would have faced a complete ouster in the two states.

“Did the Congress go for a pre-poll alliance with the SP-BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? The answer is no. The Congress’s policy is it will take benefits from everybody, but when it gets an opportunity, it does not want to share it with others,” Nanda said.

The former fisheries minister of West Bengal during the Left Front regime asserted that the SP-BSP alliance would be a “gamechanger” in the general election in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“Going by the current situation, it is clear that the SP-BSP alliance will sweep Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP will be ousted. The SP will play a vital role in the next government formation at the Centre, but we are not in the prime ministerial race,” he maintained.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, along with its allies, had secured 73 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, whereas the SP had won five and the Congress just two seats.

Nanda also refuted the claims that Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) might play a spoilsport for the SP-BSP alliance in the Hindi heartland state.

“New parties crop up prior to the Lok Sabha polls in politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh, but they fail to create any impact,” he asserted.

Talking about the choice of prime ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, Nanda said the matter would be decided on the basis of consensus after the polls.

“We are not averse to anyone for the prime minister’s post but that issue will be decided after the polls, following a discussion with all the parties,” he added.

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Is “Pliable” offensive because Rahul Gandhi said it?

Arti Ghargi

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As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means.

 

Many of our journalists on ever-buzzing Indian Twitter are outraging over the word “Pliable”. For those who are completely unaware of how this fairly innocuous-seeming word offended many of my colleagues, let me give you a brief background.

It was on Thursday that Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a press conference sought to take a swipe at Prime Minister Modi’s interview with ANI editor Smita Prakash as being “staged” and lampooning the interviewer as “Pliable”. His remarks were followed by a prompt rebuttal by the ANI chief calling it a “Cheap Shot” and “downright absurd”. “Not expected of a president of the oldest political party in the country,” she tweeted. Many journalists and even politicians (read BJP leaders) came out in her support and slammed Rahul Gandhi for his comments.

“The Grandson of the ‘Emergency dictator’ displays his real DNA – attacks and intimidates an independent Editor,” tweeted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Adding a question on the silence of “pseudo-liberals” (Wait. The Irony just died). On the other hand, many others disagreed and saw nothing wrong with Rahul Gandhi’s comment. As the debate around “Pliable” heated, the IT cells of both parties aided their respective sides by releasing interview videos of Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi- which is supposed to be a commentary on how certain journalists suck up to the rival parties and what “Pliable” journalism looks like.

As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means. According to Google, Pliable means easily bent; flexible or easily influenced. The Cambridge dictionary elaborates a little more- (often disapproving) A pliable person is easily influenced and controlled by other people. Now, going by the literal meaning of the word, it is hardly offensive. But as what’s offensive or what’s not is subjective, let us consider for a moment that it was indeed offensive to some. But the subjective cannot be selective.

Was it a standalone incident where politicians indulged in name calling? Hell No! Many journalists on regular basis are subjected to uncivilized criticism just for doing their job. The range of cuss words used to discredit journalists and their work is innumerable. Not to mention the few which you would see in very often which degrade the standard of public discourse. I am sure many of us have been called “Presstitute, Dalal, Baazaru” and what not. And while Mr Jaitley is busy pointing fingers at Rahul Gandhi. Here is how his own cabinet colleague described the journalists as:

 Not to forget the Modi interview to Smita Prakash in which he terms some journalists as “News Traders”.

Now, after the furore, Editors Guild and other journalistic bodies stepped in and condemned Rahul Gandhi for “words” used by him to criticise the ANI chief. Though it wasn’t a standalone case of politicians name-calling journalists, in this particular case the guild stepped in. The promptness is definitely noteworthy.

In the next few lines, the guild raises the question on the objectionable language used by senior BJP leaders and AAP leaders to criticise the journalists and media at large in the past. This condemnation in retrospect hardly seems genuine and comes across as an effort to escape the whataboutery. The guild says that journalists aren’t immune to the civil criticism. Going by this statement, Pliable is more civil than “Presstitute”, “Dalal” or “Baazaru”.

So what was the outrage for? Was it really because of the use of word Pliable? If it is so, why the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy calling journalists “News Traders” doesn’t incite such response? Or was the outrage because it was Rahul Gandhi who said it. Which then means two things: either the fraternity thinks they do not merit criticism from Rahul Gandhi (or any politician, for that matter) or Rahul Gandhi is too civil in his conduct that we as journalists don’t expect him to use such words. The standard for judging Rahul Gandhi is higher than it is for his contemporaries.

In my opinion, politicians should be the last ones criticizing the journalists. But should they be barred from criticizing the media completely? Not at all. But if we are to condemn them for their comments the ground should be the same for every politician.

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