It has not been a good week for Asia. Even as the region was already confronting the problems of food shortages and natural calamities, the earthquake in China early in the week caused thousands of deaths, following which came the horrific terrorist acts in Jaipur and the breakup of a coalition government in Pakistan.

A combined death toll of over 200,000 from the aforementioned calamities is bad enough, but it showed that at least some non-democratic countries can get their act together when rescuing their citizens from natural calamities – in sharp contrast to tyrannies such as Myanmar and democracies such as America following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The relative optimism of seeing China assign the right priorities to events and act on them efficiently must be counterbalanced by Myanmar, which seems to have no clue in this regard. Strangely and tragically, China was dealing with events beyond its control while Myanmar was clearly ambivalent about events very much under its control.

The communists of China have managed to move mountains to rescue their fellow citizens. Conversely, following the terrorist blasts in Jaipur, Indian politicians have quickly returned to the practice of calling for peace while blaming Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh for their misfortunes. The main story in Indian newspapers appears to be that the “intelligence” agencies in these countries that broke away from India over 60 years ago now harbor enough talent to occasionally wreck havoc on Indian cities, based on their common religious agenda. In the midst of all this, perhaps the real culprits are quietly standing in the crowd and perhaps even smiling, but that’s a story for later in this article [1].

While there is perhaps little doubt that many citizens in South Asia wish to harm their neighbors, I find a lot of these conspiracy stories incredible to say the very least. For example, reading online versions of various Indian and US newspapers this week, the conclusion appears to be that an al-Qaeda offshoot of Bangladeshi extremism (or is it the other way around?) was behind the attacks in Jaipur.

Somehow, the idea of Bangladesh, a country whose government can barely collect taxes in the capital city and where the idea of an exit strategy for citizens usually involves annual floods, as the epicenter of Asian terrorism does not present a compelling picture. Bangladeshis appear confused enough about whether they are Muslims or Bengalis first, let alone on any questions on what kind of government they would like to have; it seems implausible that this country’s indigenous fundamentalists somehow pulled off a complex operation thousands of miles away in a city where no one really speaks the language nor shares their version of Islam.

Then comes the usual finger-pointing at the Pakistani establishment, and here perhaps the Indian media is on firmer ground. There is certainly a strong statistical relationship over the past 20 years between terrorism aimed at India and the presence of democratic governments in Pakistan. In other words, barring the notable exceptions of December 2001 when Muslim militants almost succeeded in attacking the Indian parliament, terrorism against India always increases when democratic governments assume power in Pakistan. On the other end of the scale, I noted last year that both China and India owed a debt of gratitude to the strong economy of Pakistan [2] that came about under the stewardship of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Then again, the ephemeral nature of Pakistani democracy can be compared with dewdrops on the morning rose: gone before you can get the camera ready to shoot. Perhaps there has simply been enough Pakistani-inspired terrorism against India.

Bad intentions, but so what?

Even if we were to convince ourselves of the above, proving a direct link between bad intentions and harmful actions isn’t quite so straightforward, unless you happen to be US Vice President Dick Cheney. For anyone else, the key question would involve how and why the enemies of the state can actually gain enough ground to stage attacks on one’s own country. In other words, why should a bunch of citizens take up arms against their own country or provide support to any foreign agenda?

Here is where India’s curiously chaotic democracy fails to deliver. Despite boasting a plethora of religions and races represented in parliament, every single politician in the country seems to be cut from the same old socialist cloth that the Soviet Union produced in mass numbers a few decades ago and then discarded quickly in its new (old) avatar of Russia in the past decade. It is that very same socialism that feeds the beast of terrorism in India, be it Islamic or the even-more-sinister Maoist embrace being felt in some states.

Most other Asian communists have accepted the principles of market capitalism with notable success, including China and Vietnam. Yet, the clutch of Indian communists rules on, preaching egalitarian values that essentially distribute misery across the country. In the past few years, communists in India have risen from being mere nuisances to a more significant threat due to the coalition governments now in vogue. In using this bully pulpit to support the central government India’s communists have started wrecking real damage on the economy.

Indian communists – and I tend to regard the entire ruling coalition as a bunch of communists – wear their opposition to economic reforms like some kind of medal secured for valiant combat in battle. In fact, all it represents is utter pigheadedness. By preventing the privatization of state-owned companies and banks, all they have achieved has been a rapid slowdown of infrastructure spending in the country, which has in turn pushed back the potential development of rural areas.

Farm productivity in India remains abysmal, and cities complain of rampant labor shortages in sectors such as construction. Instead of standing back and allowing market forces to assert themselves, communists have prevented labor mobility to the urban areas through a system of government subsidies.

The worst of these has been termed the Rural Employment Scheme, under which the government guarantees minimum employment for villagers, in situ. That last detail is most striking, as it shows the extent to which communists can take their stupidity, in this case expecting jobs to find people rather than the other way around as it has been for the past few thousand years in any economy.

Communist opposition to the nuclear deal with the United States, instigated by the historic opposition of the communists to Western powers, will help ensure that India does not produce enough electricity for its next phase of growth, thereby accentuating the wealth and development gap. For the country’s poor at least, the phrase “With friends like these …” should ring a bell.

On the other side of the scale, communists have prevented any potential for reducing various government subsidies on fuel, electricity and even the purchase price of grain (which has rocketed far higher than the government price). Every one of these things has contributed to inflation, in both rural and urban areas.

As the rural poor are unable to make ends meet due to rising inflation, they inevitably have to endure the squalor of urban slums in addition to the daily problems to be expected in large cities across the developing world. That includes corruption, crime, indifferent government services and the like.

A recent example highlights this nexus between communist thinking and corruption. Even as the Indian government swiftly banned trading in commodity futures as the prices of various food grains rose, it was clear that the communist belief that “markets are evil” was applied in full.

But then came revelations in Indian newspapers this week that the government had overpaid on tenders for imported wheat that was found to be of such poor quality it was unfit for human consumption. Unfazed, the government announced that the wheat would be sold to Indian companies making white bread rather than the traditional Indian bread, as if the magic of baking in large stainless steel drums could somehow render such wheat now fit for people’s plates.

The key source of frustration for many Indians is the unholy combination of corrupt government officials and staid communists who between them have choked off many pathways to economic progress. This frustration all too often boils over, and results in terrorism of the sort witnessed in Jaipur.

You can accuse me of oversimplifying matters, but the main point is that only a people without hope would sacrifice themselves for ends of the sort that terrorists espouse. That leads us to conclude that India’s terrorist masterminds do not sit in foreign capitals but in the country’s own communist parties.

1. Some of my previous articles touched on related subjects – the importance of government investment in education (The jihadi ate my homework Asia Times Online, February 27, 2007) and the economic underpinnings of terrorism (India’s muslim ‘problem’ Asia Times Online, September 1, 2007). The second article dealt with the increased visibility of Muslim crime due to its prevalence in cities rather than rural areas.
2. Lessons from Kashmir and Xinjiang touched on the success of the Pakistani economy robbing terrorist movements of their chief source of cannon fodder namely unemployed youth.