By Rajeev Sharma
Egypt in crisis again
Egypt is in the throes of crisis yet again – and this time it has more serious portends than ever before. It started on October 9 when violent clashes erupted between Coptic (native Egyptian Christians) activist groups and the Egyptian military wherein 24 people, including three soldiers, were killed and 272 were injured. The military had not come under attack even when Tahir Square mass protests took place earlier this year that culminated in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The military is a respected institution in Egypt and has never been attacked by the people in the country’s history, if one leaves out past clashes in the Sinai Peninsula. Even when Mubarak was cornered from all sides at the peak of the jasmine revolution, the military never opened fire on the protestors, though Mubarak was desperate for a more pro-active support from the armed forces. The protestors too knew where to draw the line and never took on the military during the Tahir Square protests. But suddenly the Egyptian military seems to have lost this holy cow status.
Iran's waiting-to-happen nuke disaster
India needs to be worried – very worried. A nuclear disaster is waiting to happen and that too right in India’s backyard – Iran. The potential culprit is Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant that became operational last month after 35 years of now-on, now-off construction. The Times, London, has come up with a sensational report saying that Bushehr, Iran’s first nuclear power station, is unsafe and is likely to cause the next nuclear catastrophe after Chernobyl (Russia) and Fukushima (Japan).
The Times has based its findings on a document written by an Iranian whistleblower, apparently attributed to a former member of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran’s legal department. It says that the Bushehr plant was built by “second-class engineers” who bolted together Russian and German technology from different eras. Moreover, Bushehr is located in one of the world’s most seismically active areas but cannot withstand a major earthquake. Furthermore, Iran has “no serious training program” or a contingency plan for nuclear accidents. Significantly, Iran is the only country in the world that has a functional nuclear power plant but has not joined the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which obliges signatories to observe international safety standards.
Even though the veracity of The Times expose is yet to be determined by experts, and Iran may fiercely contest the view that Bushehr was built by “second class engineers”, there are two things that should be undisputed. One, Bushehr plant was built with technologies of different eras – the construction started way back in 1975 and completed in 2011. Two, Iran lacks credible and effective nuclear disaster management mechanism. Perhaps it is time for India to lend its expertise in this area to Iran which is a valuable neighbour.
It may well be Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai yet again – from the economic perspective at least.
China’s project contracting at the company-to-company level in India is set to take a quantum leap from the current $ 40 billion to over $ 100 billion in the next few years, much of it in the infrastructure sector. More importantly, the UPA government is looking at the development as positive despite the fact China is a known rival having strategic partnership with Pakistan and the Chinese are notorious worldwide for indulging in espionage in foreign lands on behalf of their government. Interestingly, while the Chinese project contracting in India is an impressive $ 40 billion, the Indian project contracting in China is zero. This speaks volumes of the Chinese technical skills. However, project contracting is not investment, nor does it offer a solution to the massive trade imbalance of $ 20 billion in China’s favour in the $ 60 billion Sino-Indian trade.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said on record that India would be spending one trillion US dollars by 2020 in the infrastructure sector and has invited foreign powers to be a part of India’s infrastructure development in a big way, both in terms of investments and technical expertise. China-watchers in the UPA government feel that if the Chinese project contracting were to touch $ 100 billion in the next five years in the Indian infrastructure sector, as it is expected, it would be a win-win situation for the two giant neighbours.
From the strategic perspective, it would lead to marked improvement in India-China relations and would make it difficult for China to continue to ignore India’s strategic interests vis a vis Pakistan or stapled visas issue or the border dispute. From the Chinese perspective, it will be difficult to have strained relations with India after such intense economic cooperation.
Their strategic rivalries notwithstanding, India and China are soon going to have yet another institutionalised mechanism for a more effective border management in the face of repeated border incursions of Indian territories by China and Indian counters. The proposed mechanism, that will involve the two countries’ foreign offices, will monitor the otherwise tranquil over 4000-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) that represents the unsettled border promises and should be in place within this year.