Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Iran - Israel contacts

Iran – Israel contacts
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 26.10.2009

That Moscow’s support has been enlisted by the US in the diplomacy around Iran’s nuclear plans has not been without considerable behind-the-scenes goading by France and Germany.

The very heart of “Old Europe” was never comfortable with anti ballistic missile systems being positioned in what Donald Rumsfeld called “New Europe”, namely the Czech Republic and Poland. After all, Moscow’s diplomatic support on Iran was obtained only after Washington agreed to withdraw missiles form Eastern Europe.

But for Moscow it has not been a mechanical quit-pro-quo. Political advisers around the Kremlin have done their homework and joined the Iranian diplomatic concert after extensive discussions with the key country in the Middle East – Israel.

At a recent seminar in Herzilia, Israel, senior members of the Jewish state’s intelligence community like former Mossad Chief Shabtai Shavit, argued that the West’s adversarial relations with Moscow would worsen with the deployment of missiles in Eastern Europe. Under these circumstances it would be impossible to have Russian support on the Iranian nuclear issue. Israel sees this as an existential problem.

But realism dictates that Israeli nuclear arsenal is, likewise, an existential issue for Iran. In this context, statements from Washington policy makers like Bruce Riedel are seen by Iranians as “being helpful”. Riedel said that “double standards” in the Middle East on the nuclear issue are not conducive to peace.

Therefore, embedded somewhere in the sub text of all the moves whether in Geneva or Vienna is to bring out into the open Israel’s nuclear arsenal. It is recognized that resistance to this within Israel and an influential segment of the US will be profound.

Meanwhile some direct Israeli-Iranian contacts have already been established. While Tel Aviv has confirmed the contact, Teheran has not.

It would be interesting to gauge the dynamics within Iran following the demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s June 12 re election led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mir Hussein Mousavi, the candidate who lost the disputed poll.

These are being hailed as the first contacts between Iran and Israel in 30 years when the Ayatuallahs first came to power in 1979. But this is in reality only a partial truth because in 1986, the Reagan administration made clandestine contacts with the Iranian regime. The story exploded as the infamous Iran-Contra deal or Irangate. It was a complex deal in which Iran would be supplied Israeli arms to continue the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Israel would be re supplied the arms. But the money from the Iranian sales would be funneled to the Contras who were waging a war against the pro Soviet Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Admiral Poindexter, declared that “high level” contacts had been established in Teheran in the course of the controversial deal.

The “high level” contact turned out to be the then Speaker of the Iranian Majlis, Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently leading the charge against President Ahmedinejad.

When Irangate exploded as a major scandal which crippled the Reagan Presidency, the revelations did not seem to adversely affect Rafsanjani’s political fortunes. He proceeded to become President in 1989 for two terms.

Also, the Irangate taint did not seem to rub off on the present Spiritual Leader, Ali Khameini. He happened to be President in 1986, the year of Irangate. It is unlikely that Speaker of the Majlis, Rafsanjani, would have embarked on an audacious foreign policy initiative with the US and Israel without clearance from the then President, Ali Khamenei. Despite Irangate, Khameini too earned a promotion: he is the Spiritual leader today.

The interesting fact today is that Rafsanjani and Khameini are on opposite sides in the post election standoff.

Since the US ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Saudi Arabia has watched developments with deep anxiety. Saddam was bad, but the emergence of Shia dominated Iraq next to Saudi oil bearing region of Damman, predominantly Shia, is something of a nightmare. Further, Shia majority in Bahrein, Lebanon, a large population of Shias in Kuwait are all morale boosters for Teheran. Little wonder then that Saudis were invited to be present at the series Iranian-Israeli meetings in September. Also, Riadh has been encouraged to appoint a special envoy for Jammu and Kashmir under the auspices of the hurriedly rejuvenated OIC. Mysteriously, neither the government nor the Indian media has taken much note of this development.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Iran – US entente: a backgrounder

Iran – US entente: a backgrounder
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 06.10.2009

In its dialogue with Teheran, which began in Geneva, the international community led by Washington will have to proceed cautiously to be able to retain the support of that faction of the Iranian establishment opposed to the Supreme leader Ali Khameini and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The presence of this pressure group has the potential of moderating the course of dialogue.

For Teheran the opening of the newly declared reprocessing plant at QOM for inspection is serving its purpose: the Iranian Government is already looking reasonable. This has the potential of denying the Iranian opposition, led by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mir Hussein Mousavi, the exclusiveness of the moderate image.

A triangular format is emerging.

To understand the implications of this triangle, it may be useful to take the narrative back to the mid 70s for reasons which will presently become clear.

Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia had all been lost to communism. Berlinguer, Marchais, and Corrilo were powerful in Italy, France and Spain. Even Henry Kissinger feared a Marxist Western Europe in the next fifteen years.

At that stage, give or take a few years, the Shah in Iran, Daud in Afghanistan, Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, Morarji Desai in India, J.R. Jayawardene in Sri Lanka offered comfort to a west in retreat elsewhere. These were all pro west regimes.

But in the space of a few years, Daud was killed, the Shah ousted and Indira Gandhi was back in power. Only Zia ul Haq stayed on, after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder, to wage “Jehad” for the west, the consequence of which the region is bearing to this day.

Daud’s murder was the result of a botched up plan by the Shah’s notorious secret Service, Savak, to eliminate the “Left” from around Daud. The plan leaked and a pre-emptive strike by Khalq and Parcham, the two communist parties of Afghanistan, brought a somewhat unprepared Noor Mohammad Taraki, to power in Kabul as the country’s first Communist President. He was followed by the more ruthless Hafizullah Amin, then Babrak Karmal and finally the hapless Najibullah, lynched by the Afghan Mujahideen in Kabul’s UN compound. The Afghan “Jehad” against Communists and Sovietism was by now at an advanced stage, resulting in Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

A decade earlier, the Savak inspired plan to eliminate the Left around Daud boomeranged, as I have explained earlier. But why was such a plan hatched in the 70s? To forestall communist takeover in the region on the pattern of Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia. It may be added here, in parenthesis, that it was in the wobbly 70s that Communism also took the electoral route to power – it was, ofcourse, snuffed out in Chile but remains in the gaddi in West Bengal to this day.

Political parties that were underground during the Shah’s rule came out into the open in the first anti Shah flush of the Islamic revolution. Once the Shah was out of the way, the revolution turned upon Tudeh, the Communist Party of Iran and the Leftist Mujahideen-e-Khalq. Elimination of the Left was fine by the West. But the 444 day siege of the US embassy soured relations. Shaitaan-e-Buzurg hoardings went up. The US was the “Senior Satan”. The consolidation of the Ayatullahs had gone woefully wrong for the US.

In 1986, at the peak of President Reagan’s counter offensive after Western retreat elsewhere in the previous decade, surfaced Irangate also known as the Iran – Contra affair. This is when Hashemi Rafsanjani first surfaced as the West’s preferred Iranian. In the Obama administration the person most conversant with this phase of US diplomacy is Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. Gates was deputy to CIA Director William Casey during the Reagan Years. And Casey was in the thick of the Iran Contra affair, as he was in Afghanistan.

The US made clandestine contacts with the Iranian regime. It all began as an operation to improve US-Iran relations, wherein Israel would ship weapons to a “moderate” and politically influential group of Iranians. The US would then resupply Israel and receive Israeli payment. The whole affair erupted as a major scandal. Reagan himself admitted that “what began as a strategic opening to Iran” deteriorated into trading arms for hostages and financing the Contras.

Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Admiral Poindexter told his cabinet colleagues that “high level contacts” in Iran had been secured. One of these contacts was Hashemi Rafsanjani, then the all powerful Speaker of the Majlis. The President of Iran at that stage was the present spiritual leader, Ali Khameini. It is interesting that Khameini and Rafsanjani are on opposite sides in the current stand-off.

Was Rafsanjani’s 1986 contact with the US (indirectly with Israel too) authorized by Ayatullah Ali Khamenei then President of the Islamic Republic? White House documents, now in the public domain, do mention Rafsanjani as a “contact”. Atleast Poindexter is quite clear on this one. Remember Rafsanjani played a key role in securing release of US hostages in Lebanon. His role was also central during the TWA hijack in Beirut, when he traveled to Damascus to secure release of the TWA plane.

In 1989 Rafsanani became President and Ali Khameini the Wali-Faqih or spiritual leader. His second term as President ended in 1997. Despite his image outside Iran as a “moderate”, Rafsanjani was not able to improve relations with the West during his two terms.

Quite possibly he had to play down suspicions aroused during Irangate. Moreover, in Iran’s complex web of checks and balances, it is not possible to bring about shifts in foreign policy on a solo basis.

By the time President Mohammad Khatami’s second term ended in 2005, the US was neck deep in trouble in both Iraq as well as Afghanistan. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, kept the Khatami establishment on board during the early Afghan operations for which he was rewarded by being made ambassador to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Khalilzad had obtained a mandate from the Bush administration to open a dialogue with Teheran. Washington neo cons, however, pulled him back, insisting that the Iranians be engaged only on their role in Iraq. This the Iranians rejected.

After Khatami’s term ended Rafsanjani once again contrived a candidacy for himself for the June 2005 elections. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was much the underdog in that race.

That Rafsanjani was the preferred candidate of the US became clear after Christianne Amanpour did a high profile interview with him for the CNN. This was the kiss of death at a time when President George W Bush was history’s most hated President, particularly in the Muslim world. The Baseej, or the religious militia put all their strength against Hussein Mousavi and Rafsanjani. Supported by spiritual leader Ali Khameini, Ahmedinejad became the President.

By contrast, the US factor today has been a positive element since the June 2009 Iranian elections. President Obama, by his persona and speeches has softened the Muslim world. This key fact must be recognized. The success of the continuing demonstration against the election results in Iran is a function of a large section of the Iranian public drawing sustenance from the Obama image. A pity, the US media is not playing up this fact.

Bush’s unstated approval of Rafsanjani’s candidature cost Rafsanjani the election in 2005. Even though there has been no overt preference for a candidate by Obama, the international community’s (therefore Obama’s) doubts on the veracity of the results has helped the agitation led by Mousavi and Rafsanjani. Even more important is the split in the ranks of the Iranian clergy in the 16th century Theological University at QOM.

President Obama therefore has support in an influential section of the Iranian establishment. As the dialogue with Iran proceeds, this segment can be moulded into a credible lobby provided, in the process Iranian nationalism is not touched on the raw. Because in that case everyone in Iran will close ranks. Such is the nature of the Iranian people.

Internal to Iran is an important drama proceeding in parallel. For Rafsanjani this could well be a fight to the finish, now that members of his family have been detained on corruption charges. Taking sides in this quarrel will not help. In fact the West may well have to take a call soon on Rafsanjani’s expendability in the interest of a larger purpose, which includes tactful management of the nuclear issue.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

The K-Word and a House in Disorder

The K-Word and a House in Disorder
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 10.07.2009

With Shopian, Kupwara and Baramula blowing up in our faces in Kashmir, two broad attitudes dictate themselves: (a) this sort of thing keeps happening in Kashmir and (b) we have to start putting our house in order because Kashmir will acquire a profile after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit even though the “K” word will be shrouded in confidentiality.

Let us pick up the narrative from Shopian, a small town with a population of 60,000 in Pulwara District of Southern Kashmir.

It has always been an intellectually alert town. Long years ago a friend of mine Shamim Ahmad Shamin, a proud Shopiani, edited a lively newspaper. Aaina or Mirror.

After the liberal politics of people like Shamim came to an end, the political space has been occupied by leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami like Maulana Mohammad Amin Shopiani and Maulana Ahrar Shopiani.

This is the setting in which the recent drama was played out.

In Kashmir, as elsewhere in India, an unstated caste structure operates. Nilofer, daughter of a high caste Saiyid or a Pir, fell in love with Shakeel Mir, a small businessman, of a lower caste than the Pirs. The Pirs disowned Nilofer.

On May 29, Nilofer and her sister-in-law, Aasiya, went out to tend the family fields adjacent to a river. The route they took was through the civil lines with a regular CRPF camp on one side of the road and a Special Operations Group on the other. The police station is nearby. An unnamed witnessed saw them return not by the regular bridge but trying to balance on temporarily assembled logs, a sort of short cut. At this stage the narrative enters the arena of speculations, allegations, possible political manipulation.

When Nilofer and Aasiya did not return home, Shakeel reported the matter to the police Nilofer’s body was found on a small island created in the river by the water having receded. Her clothes were allegedly torn and there appeared to have been a scuffle. Descriptions of Aasiya’s body – as alleged – were even more gruesome. Her body, found further down the river, was stark naked.

There are allegations aglore, mostly against the police: they sent the bodies immediately to the hospital for post mortem, they did not secure the scene of crime/mishap for on-the-spot inquiries; post mortem was conducted by doctors on temporary duty; Chief Minister Omar Abdullah absolved the police on the basis of this spurious post mortem; The SSP admitted he got involved in the case late because he was busy with his gymnasium exercises!

Later, the Muzaffar Jan Commission established rape and the whole set of police officers were suspended.

In Kupwara a girl of class 12 was raped and killed. In Shirin village near Baramula a similar incident occurred.

Trouble initially seems to begin with the predominantly Kashmir Muslim police. When crowds are not mollified, the CRPF is called out facilitating slogans of Indian “occupation”.

All these eruptions are manifestations of Political and Administrative failure in Kashmir. Suddenly all the promise reposed in Omar Abdullah appears to have dissipated in the space of a month.

Then Kashmiris are very aware of the fact that of the six months as Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has spent 38 days in New Delhi!

The President of NC, Farooq Abdullah, is in the Union Cabinet, not in Kashmir. Worse, even his supporters are unhappy with his portfolio. Renewable energy is not a term his constituents know about. They call it “Gobar” or “Dung” Ministry.

The other day he was flailing his arms and complaining to his friends. “They think I have been insulted” he lamented. “They call me Minister of Gobar”. “These fools do not know that R.K. Pachauri won the Noble Prize generating power from Cow Dung!”

Even though there is no durable power center in Pakistan with whom a long term theme can be developed, the hot-house atmosphere in which Kashmiris live will be relieved with any resumption of a dialogue.

Alienation from the political class, army, CRPF, Police and the local bureaucracy is complete: a quick, band – aid, solution could well be a military adviser to Omar Abdullah. By all accounts an army officer who won the hearts and minds was the former Corp Commander in Kashmir, Lt. Gen. Patankar, currently with a New Delhi think tank.

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PM's Gamble at Sharm El Sheikh

PM's Gamble at Sharm El Sheikh
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 21.07.2009

That Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to be in New Delhi soon upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s return from Sharm el Sheikh need not have been the primary reason for the joint Indo-Pak statement issued at the Egyptian resort.

But US officials have, nevertheless, gone out of their way to emphasize that Clinton’s was a bilateral visit, and that any hyphenation with Pakistan should be discounted. In the Washington – New Delhi – Islamabad parlance the term “de hyphenate” has acquired a distinct connotation. It largely means “Kashmir shall not be mentioned”.

Sure, Kashmir was not mentioned at Sharm el Sheikh, but “all outstanding issues” between the two countries were. Obviously, both the delegations are quite clear that the blanket formulation covers Kashmir.

Not just this. Manmohan Singh has gone much further than any Indian leader in the past.

He even allowed “Balochistan and other areas” mentioned in the Statement. Paragraph six says:
“Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas”. The sentence has been inserted to strengthen Gilani’s hand. Pakistan will now be expected to do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

Some delivery on this count has already taken place. Pakistan has for the first time ever actually charged some of the culprits. The pace of hearings and eventual conviction has been left vague. In fact Pakistan will find Clinton’s statement in this regard helpful. In an interview with Times Now channel she expressed confidence about Pakistani actions against Mumbai terrorists but she gave Islamabad a bit of a rope by saying that “we know from all over 9/11 experience” that legal processes can take considerable time.

Hawks in New Delhi are already splitting hairs on another formulation. “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”.

In 2005 Manmohan Singh and Gen. Musharraf had agreed that the bilateral Peace Process was “irreversible”, and that acts of terrorism should not be allowed to derail the process. This was clear recognition of the fact that there were in Pakistan, powerful groups who would wreck any process that leads to an Indo-Pak rapprochement.

Who are these malignant interests? Well, in the short term the Al Qaeda – Taleban would like the Indo-Pak border to hot up so that Pak troops are pulled away from the NWFP and the border with Afghanistan where militants are taking some stick. The long term resistance to normalization with India comes from the all powerful Pak Army which sees in peace a dilution of its raisson d’etre.

Reverting to Sharm el Sheikh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a gamble, alright, but it is a relatively safe gamble. It is clear as daylight that between nuclear armed neighbours war is no option. Only a dialogue process is. This process has the potential of enlarging that constituency in Pakistan which is opposed to Islamic militancy as well as Army rule.

It must be recognized that the threat to the Dialogue Process is from either of these elements separately or in conjunction.

Remember, (and I have first hand knowledge of this) from the February 2008 Pak elections upto 26/11, Mumbai, there was in Pakistani public discourse no unfriendly mention of India or of Kashmir. So discredited was the Pak Army fighting the then unpopular war in the North – West that officers would not be seen in their uniforms even doing grocery shopping, outside the cantonments.

26/11 changed all that.

Ofcourse we were all angry at the spectacle of iconic buildings in Mumbai ablaze. But it is precisely in these moments of national anger that the media’s role becomes one of great responsibility: angry, without becoming hysterical; critical without losing fidelity to facts; channelizing national anger not aggravating it to feverishness, irresponsibly losing sight of purpose. Instead of targeting the perpetrators of Mumbai, namely the army, ISI and their Jehadi “assets”, the media tarred all of Pakistan with one brush, weakening that huge constituency which had begun to look forward to friendship with India.

In response to India’s media barrage, the Pak media, so far extremely critical of the army, closed ranks in retaliation, causing public opinion, so far focused on Jehadism and the Army, to regard India with rediscovered hostility. The perpetrators of Mumbai had succeeded.

And guess what was the eventual outcome. Pak Army officers could once again do their grocery shopping in full uniform!

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Grappling with Jaswant's Jinnah

Grappling with Jaswant's Jinnah
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 28.08.2009

Lord Denis Healey, the best Prime Minister Britain never had, told me a story some years ago which might be of interest now that the country is in a scrum reevaluating Jinnah.

During a general election in the first quarter of the 20th century (Healey’s memory is hazy on the exact date), a short list of three Labour Party candidates from South Leeds contained a surprising name: M. A. Jinnah.

Healey peered through his bushy eyebrows and asked, “don’t you think Indian history would have been different if Jinnah got the Labour ticket and won?”

Healey’s question is another one of those “what-might-have-been” quantities in sub continental history.

The hullabaloo that has followed publication of Jaswant Singh’s book is, quite honestly, because Jaswant happens to be a senior BJP leader who praised Jinnah.

As far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned any appraisal of Jinnah was a settled issue: our (Sangh) appraisal versus their (secularists) appraisal. What Jaswant’s book has done is to upset this “Us vs. Them” status quo.

This kind of deviation was first attempted by L.K. Advani himself when, during a visit to Pakistan, he praised Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly in Karachi in which Jinnah spoke with clarity of his vision of a secular Pakistan. The entire Sangh Parivar, led by the RSS, pounced upon Advani. Even Congress leaders did not spare him. This despite the fact that Advani returned with a huge sweetener to soften Hindu sentiment. This was a commitment by President Musharraf to restore the ancient Katasraj temple site. Temple or no temple, Advani must recant. Advani lost nerve and backed off.

Jaswant has not been asked to recant as Advani was. He has been summarily sacked. What were the reasons for Jaswant having been treated in this fashion?

The book was released on the eve of the BJP’s Chintan Baithak (brainstorming session) in Shimla. The session itself took place when the party was in terminal decline after the Lok Sabha debacle.

In any event the party was in no mood to allow Jaswant to cock-a-snook at the galaxy gathered in Shimla. Instead, someone had a brainwave: turn the tables on Jaswant and extract political mileage. Precipitate action against Jaswant (What Arun Shourie in another context calls “Jhatka”), would deflect attention from all the guilty men responsible for the party’s downhill acceleration. It would delay the ignominious departure of leaders who are so mesmerized by their own presence on the wobbly political stage that they have forgotten their exits.

Take precipitate action on what count? After all, even assuming that all those sunk in deep thought in Shimla do read books, how on earth do they claim to have read a 700 page tome overnight?

Was it media initiative or the publishers’ imaginative marketing strategy, that bits from Jaswant’s pre launch interview to a channel were splashed across the front pages of newspapers the next morning? There was enough material here for the Chintan Baithak to go into convulsions about. The Sangh Parviar’s villain, Jinnah, had been cast as a hero; their hero, Sardar Patel, had been shown as being complicit in partition. But what really drove them to distraction was something else:

“Woh baat saare fasaney
mein jiska zikr na tha
Woh baat unko bahut
Nagawar guzri hai!”
(The fact which was not even there in the narrative is precisely the one that has hurt them the most.)

For full fifty years the Sangh Parviar has persisted with its chant of “Muslim appeasement.” And here, one of their top leaders talks of Muslim pain, the Sachar Committee, the fact that the guilt of partition was heaped on Muslims when Hindus took a lead in the tragedy.

This reversal of 50 (fifty) years of assiduously sustained propaganda is what jolted those assembled in Shimla. When BJP leaders charged Jaswant of “denigrating” the party’s “core” ideology, this is the pain they were giving vent to. Jaswant is simply teasing the Parivar spokesmen when he asks with feigned innocence: “What is so core about Sardar Patel?”

“Patel united the country”, they scream in chorus.

“But Patel seconded the resolution moved by the Jawaharlal Nehru for the country’s partition at the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting” retorts Jaswant.

It is conceivable that the Parivar has made an admission here: that Sardar Patel integrated the 600 odd princely states, including Hyderabad, into the Indian Union and it is on this count that they consider him the nation’s unifier. Ostrich like, they have simply buried their heads in the sand on Patel’s established complicity in partition.

Ofcourse, there were petty reasons too for the party to expel Jaswant. Narendra Modi was quaking because the alleged criticism of Sardar Patel would affect his Patel votes in the coming by elections in Gujarat. By way of bonus, some juice may well be extracted from the controversy in the Maharashtra elections.

By one courageous act of having written a straightforward book on Partition in which Jinnah is cast as a man of honour, Jaswant has thrown a huge boulder in the pond. The waves are affecting the Congress too.

The Parivar has rushed to protect Sardar Patel. Does the Congress watch this appropriation of one of their icons by the RSS-BJP combine in silence? Or do they go out beating their breasts (as they appear to be doing in Gujarat) to the accompaniment of a chant: “Sardar Patel is ours! Sardar Patel is ours!”

In this public reacquisition of Sardar Patel, do they completely ignore Nehru? But if they bring Nehru into the discourse, what do they say?

That it was he who moved the partition resolution at the crucial CWC?

In his book, India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad, Congress President from 1939 to 1946, blames Nehru and Patel squarely for partition. Jaswant quotes him.

In brief, Maulana Azad and Badshah Khan, two Muslim members of the CWC are fiercely opposed to partition. Now Jaswant reinforces the uncomfortable reality that Jinnah, another Muslim, was pushed into a corner only by the Congress leaders.

Why is this reality so disturbing for most of us? It is disturbing because the basic perception that has sunk into the Hindu psyche over the past 62 years is that Muslims divided the country and also stayed on. It is just the sort of turf on which communalists pitch their tent.

Jaswant’s is a laudable effort. A pity he has not had access to Mushtaq Naqvi’s remarkable and much neglected book Partition: The Real Story. The following data from Mushtaq’s book would have strengthened his argument:

During the 1945-46 elections in UP, the total electorate was only 10.2% of the Province’s Muslims. Of these only 52% of the electorate voted. In other words, nearly 5% of the total electorate. The Muslim League won only 37.3% of the total electorate.

UP was the epicenter of the Muslim League activity. If the returns of UP are superimposed on the rest of the country we end up with the startling truth that only three out of hundred Muslims wanted Pakistan.

How then did Partition happen?

Well done, Jaswant, for having opened up this debate. But who has the stamina or even the minimal interest to sustain the debate?

And now that Jaswant is all set to visit Pakistan with his book after Ramadan, let us await reactions there. Some will find Jaswant’s book heartwarming. But there are also those in the post Zia ul Haq establishment who will find Jinnah’s lukewarm approach to Islamism an affront.

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An Australian Transition

An Australian Transition
By Saeed Naqvi

Attacks on Indians in Australia was one of the issues foreign minister S. M. Krishna raised with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but what can a prime minister do about conflict on campuses and street corners.

The irony is that successful multiculturism was something Australians wore on their sleeves in the 90s. This was something Australians themselves would not have dreamt of when they first abandoned their “Whites only” policy in 1974. Discarding “Whites only” was one thing but becoming a multicultural model, quite another.

An influential section of Australian intellectuals who opposed “whites only” were actually Jewish social scientists fleeing in the 50s from what is now Eastern Europe. Was this not the period of large scale Jewish migration to the United Sates?

Yes, but the Jewish intellectuals who came to Australia were in fact, concientious objectors to another malaise afflicting American society – the anti communist witch hunt led by Senator Joe Macarthy.

But during this period the most adventurous community in India, a number of Sikhs had materialized, in Australia, working on railway projects or on plantations. Obviously they could not own property before 1974. So, they lay in wait, patiently.

Post 1974, skills of managing some plantations were a Sikh monopoly. North of Brisbane, acres upon acres of banana plantations around the town of Wulgulga, are today owned exclusively by Sikhs.

The scale of this business has to be understood. Every school kid in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands who carries a banana in his tiffin box is probably carrying this nutritious fruit grown by the hardy Sikhs of Wulgulga!

In its happy decade of multiculturism in the 90s, I did a TV interview with the Mayor of Sydney who happened to be Vietnamese.

Incidentally, the first recorded allegation of racism against an Australian made by an Indian was against possibly the most famous Australian ever – Don Bradman. The allegation was made by the spectacular Indian opening batsman, Mushtaq Ali.

The unverifiable allegation was occasioned by a simple incident. The P & O liner carrying the Australian cricket team to England had docked at Mumbai, then Bombay. A reception was planned at the Brabourne Stadium to meet the Australian cricketers. But the Great Don refused to leave the ship. Remember, Don Bradman was a painfully private man and Mushtaq Ali may well have read too much into Bradman’s refusal to leave the ship.

The story of Australian racism begins with the early European settlement in 1788 which inaugurated an era of pogroms, sometimes hunting of the local population for sport.

Anthony Trollope narrates the story of a white settler in Tasmania. The settler asked him what would he do if he saw a “native and a snake in the bush”. The settler then proceeded to provide the answer: “The question should not arise” he said. “The native has to be shot first”.

Having graduated from the gruesome 19th century phase of eliminating the “natives” to the post “white” Australia policy of the 70s leading to the 90s when multiculturism flourished, what can recent attacks on Indians be attributed to?

For me it is all the more puzzling because during my experience in US and UK, Indians have seldom been the target of local ire. Except for the aberration of “dot busting” (attacks on Indian women wearing the bindi) in some parts of New Jersey, it is universally acknowledged that Indians are held in high esteem.

When Enoch Powell made his famous “Rivers of Blood” speech in the UK in 1969, he had West Indians in his focus. The street on which he lived in Wolverhamption had been taken over entirely by West Indians. His was the only “white” house.

Later, in the early 70s, racially motivated street fights surfaced as “Paki bashing”. For this there were several reasons: insistence on “halal” meat shops, for instance. But Indians thrived.

I am convinced that the world George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard have bequeathed to us is generally not hospitable to the foreigner. From the anti “muslim” to the anti “foreigner” is a small but understandable shift particularly in this phase of economic meltdown. We must also examine whether we have sent to Australia the best and the brightest or possibly the brashest.

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British Role was Central to Partition

British Role was Central to Partition
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 19.08.2009

The Sangh Parivar may well be in cahoots with the publishers of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah because by expelling him they have guaranteed a boost in sales.

Indeed, I am looking forward to Jaswant Singh’s book to see if he too casts Jinnah as the “sole spokesman”. In that case what happens to all those theories about the inevitability of Partition, that it would have happened regardless? If partition was not inevitable, then who were the guilty men? Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were certainly opposed to partition. Jaswant has presumably named the guilty Congress leaders. But why is the Sangh Parviar so upset? Because Jaswant knocks the bottom of the false belief that partition was the handiwork of Muslims to the exclusion of all else?

Seated behind me in the packed Nehru Museum Library hall was a rather disappointed Narendra Singh Sarila, author of the Untold Story of India’s Partition. He is not disappointed with the book but with all the discussants on the stage who did not even touch on the British role in India’s partition. To my view, this facet is central to the entire narrative about Partition.

The partition plan was announced in New Delhi on June 3, 1947. At the Labour Party Conference at Margate the following week, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevan, told the delegates that the division of India “would help to consolidate Britain in the Middle East”. Fast forward to 1990, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to Finland, is asked why Britain needed her nuclear arsenal now that the cold war was over? “Because we still have a problem in the Middle East”, she retorted.

One will have to wade through Jaswant Singh’s voluminous book to arrive at a judgement on Jinnah and the guilty men of the Congress. But on British machinations, no recent book is more definitive than Sarila’s. For this there is a straightforward reason.

Sarila (from an ample princely state of that name) was ADC to Lord Mountbatten. Subsequently, Nehru had him inducted into the Foreign Office where, after a varied career, he retired as Ambassador to Berne. From this and other vantage points he kept up his equation with Mountbatten who guided him to documents and sources no scholar has had easy access to.

We have Sarila’s testimony that on the day Bevan made his speech, Krishna Menon, Nehru’s interlocutor with British Socialist Leaders in London, was in fact in New Delhi, staying with Nehru. His handwritten note delivered to Mountbatten at Viceroy’s House on June 14 is revealing.

“Is this frontier (northwest of India abutting Afghanistan and Iran) still the hinterland of the Imperial strategy? Does Britain still think in terms of being able to use this territory and all that follows from it? There is considerable amount of talking in this way; and if Kashmir, for one reason or another, chooses to be in Pakistan, that is a further development in this direction. I do not know of British Policy in this matter”. Menon then cheekily adds: “I do not know whether you would know it either. But if this be the British intent, this is tragic…………. As it becomes more evident, the attitude of India would be resentful and Britain’s hold on Pakistan would not improve it. I think I have said enough. Perhaps a bit too much.” Fears expressed in Menon’s note were borne out.

After 1857, the British had worked assiduously towards dividing Hindus and Muslims. If you have time to read just one book to gauge British intentions on this score, do please read the Gandhian scholar, Dharampal’s well researched document on cow slaughter. The irony is that the study was sponsored by the BJP!

Lord Landsdowne is congratulated by Queen Victoria for having successfully directed Hindu ire towards the “Mohammedans” because, “their anger otherwise would have been with us who require beef for our troops!”

The storm that Jaswant Singh’s book has raised was expected. To this extent he has already succeeded.

A civilization which prides itself on placing a heavy premium on a life of the mind should be comfortable with opening up settled conventional wisdom for discussion. We demean ourselves if we show a loss of nerve when offered a chance to debate inconvenient reality.
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Congress' Unhelpful Silence on Partition

Congress' Unhelpful Silence on Partition
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 05.09.2009

Any Indian, Hindu or Muslim, familiar with the political events from 1937 to 1947, when Indian (and Pakistani) freedom arrived with Partition, has learnt to accept that Congress leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel were complicit in the partition plan.

But with the passage of time the complicity was forgotten, most notably by the Muslim minority. Indeed, until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru remained the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims.

The Congress Party benefited greatly from this initial faith reposed on Nehru by the Indian Muslim. But the continuous Hindutva incantation about “Muslim appeasement” created a degree of anxiety among Congress leaders nervous about the party’s decline on other counts.

I remember long discussions with Vithal Gadgil one of the most secular Congressmen one has known. In the mid 80s he was worried about “a growing feeling among the Hindus that Muslims were being appeased”.

“But can you give examples of Muslim appeasement?” I asked.

That was not important, he said. The uncomfortable truth was the growing “perception” among Hindus that Muslims were being “appeased”.

The “perception” was hugely amplified by systematic propaganda employing methods that would have done Goebbels proud. Ofcouse, the Congress itself was not free of its own closet communalists who facilitated the “perception”. Indeed, an unsuspecting Rajiv Gandhi was prevailed upon to gift Shah Bano to the Muslims and an unlocked Ram Mandir to the Hindus.

This step created conditions for the inevitable Mandir-Masjid clash climaxing with the demolition of the Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992. That was the darkest phase in the annals of Communalism, possibly improved upon only by Narendra Modi’s Gujarat pogrom of 2002.

Pick out the slogans of VHP and Bajrang Dal mobs on both occasion and you will have a clear idea why the ground is so fertile for communal eruptions.

In 1992 there were no news channels other than the official Doordarshan. An enterprising addition to the media fare was a Video magazine launched by the India Today group called Newstrack. The Newstrack magazine assembled after the demolition of Babari Masjid is an eye opener:

The first scene after the demolition, shows a group of women in a circle, clapping and singing the following song:
“Ab yehg jhanda lahrayega
Saarey Pakistan pe”
(Now our flag will flutter over all of Pakistan.)

The next scene focuses on young men, wearing saffron bands, jabbing the air with lances and trishuls.

“Bomb girega Pakistan pe” (Bombs will fall on Pakistan).

A swamiji is then slowly brought into focus. In a booming voice, the swami announces his itinerary. “Abhi hamein Lahore jaana hai, Rawalpindi jaana hai.” (Now our destinations are Lahore and Rawalpindi)

Inevitably, the camera then focuses on Bal Thackeray who, pleased as punch, says with finality.
“Let the Muslims go to Pakistan.” No mention of Rama or Babar in all of this. Those were just excuses for the saffron movement which had played on the subconscious prejudice linking Muslims with Pakistan. You hate one and you hate both.

History is one thing, popular perceptions shaped by political interests, quite another.

History of those frenetic last days leading to partition is not straightforward. Guilt for partition can be placed at the door of the British, Jinnah and Congress leaders. Nehru too. After all he moved the resolution accepting partition at the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting.

The communalists know the Congress vulnerability. They know that under no circumstance will the congress leadership ever publicly own up to the fact that their tallest leaders accepted partition. This helplessness of the Congress is exploited by the Communal formations. They proceed to blame Muslims for the partition of India. Congress silence on the one hand and Goebbels like propaganda on the other has therefore prepared the ground for repeated Communal harvests.

What can be done? Well, if someone of stature in the Congress were to find an occasion to make the following statement:
“It is a travesty to blame Muslims for India’s partition. For a set of compelling reasons, a host of interests which included the Congress, had to acquiesce in partition at that momentous period in Indian history.” This line must go down to the mofussil Congress worker. The turf of communalism will not be so fertile then.

Pending some such clarification from the Congress, Jaswant Singh is looking good.

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Search for the Muslim leader

Search for the Muslim leader
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 22.09.2009

It was heartwarming to find several newspapers publish photographs of Eid congregations, Navratra and Durga Puja side by side. We shall live to rue the day we take this exquisite mosaic for granted.

The biggest danger to this marvelous tapestry comes from electoral uses of the minority issue.

The Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic condition of Muslims was an audacious step taken in good faith by the UPA. But a report of this nature is meaningless without follow up action. It is here that electoral politics trumps altruism.

Since the 80s, atleast, the Congress, including the Muslim component of its leadership, lives in fear that its Hindu vote might slip away because the party, in their faulty perception, if seen to be pro Muslim, will annoy the Hindus. This leads to a cyclical fear that the minorities will desert them.

A quest, therefore, begins for the Muslim leader who will help attract the flock. This is a much more complicated process than most people imagine.

It is complicated, because, without our being aware of it, we live in a system of uninstitutionalized apartheid. Monochromatic evolution of settlements around Jama Masjid and Jhandewalan respectively gives an idea of the phenomenon.

The prevalence of this separation entails that the party, say, the Congress will not know which kind of a leader resonates with the community.

In the absence of knowledge, the easiest approach is to pitch in for a religious leader. This explains the proliferation of lengthy beards and headgear at official Iftar parties.

Empirical evidence should have taught politician that this variety of Muslim leadership has religious, functional uses rather like the Purohit at marriage “pheras”, but it has limited say in political matters.

Remember, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistani had influence on the establishment, but never on the voters. The party seldom won seats upto the 90s. The Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is the Army creation to control secular, political surge. Just as in Kerala where there are “Munanis” with links to the Sangh Parivar but no seat in the assembly.

Politicians promoted the Senior Imam of Jama Masjid as a Muslim vote catcher. The Imam came a cropper.

In fact, the projection of bearded clergy on political platforms has a communalizing visual effect. Muslims thus projected come across only as a religious quantity. The whole projection is a falsehood. Of the country’s 150 million Muslims, not even a million would resemble the characters politicians attach to themselves as vote-catchers. Remember the Osama bin Laden look-alike Ram Vilas Paswan carted on his bandwagon during the campaign? Paswan is not even in the Lok Sabha now.

From the clerical extreme, the search lights are then beamed to search the liberal Muslim leader.

The liberal Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian leader is a contradiction in terms. You can have a liberal leader who will, per chance, belong to anyone of those denominations. Maulana Azad was a liberal, national leader who happened to be a Muslim. Those who have not read Ghubar-e-Khatir will know nothing of his elegant descriptions of playing sitar by moonlight at the Taj Mahal! Let any of the Imams match that one. Or Azad’s knowledge of the Quran.

Who then should lead the Muslims. Under the given circumstances, not a Muslim certainly, because that choice leads to the Sole Spokesman syndrome.

Remember until his death in 1964 the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims was Jawaharlal Nehru as he was of the majority of Indians. In other words, Muslims need a liberal, secular Hindu to lead them. This does not obviate a leadership role for Muslims. But these Muslim leaders will require the majority community as well to line up behind them. Only with this cross-knitting can we weld the country together. Only in this fashion can we proceed towards a just society for all, including Muslims. Otherwise tokenism fuels communalism and the falsehood of Muslim appeasement.

What can be done?

To begin with, dismantle the Ministry of Minority Affairs. And if you must have such a ministry, place it under a liberal Hindu. Reason? I have never seen a Muslim minister do a jot for Muslims for fear of losing his or her secular credentials. And if you do find the rare Muslim who helps other Muslims, he will instantly open himself to the charge of being communal. A liberal Hindu in that slot can be a much more useful and harmonizing entity.

Subsidies and a special air terminal for Haj helps only an infinitesimal minority of muslims and irritates many more Hindus. Why must the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia be a Muslim? I refuse to believe that a Hindu Ambassador cannot oversee Haj arrangements.

More to point is the lamentable absence of an Arabic speaking ambassador or even junior staff in any Arab country except, perhaps, Egypt. Why? Somewhere here can we begin to shed tokenism, which irritates, and do the real things which serve the national purpose.

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