Friday, December 18, 2009

The problem in Af-Pak is Pak

The problem in Af-Pak is Pak

By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 11.12.2009

How President Obama’s Af-Pak policy plays itself out may become clearer against a backdrop.

Since President Musharraf’s reputation had sunk after Lal Masjid, sacking of the Chief Justice, declaration of emergency, Washington and London began to encourage Benazir Bhutto’s candidature as Prime Minister because she had promised to give the US a free hand in directing the war against terror. President Musharraf could not have been dispensed with immediately because President Bush’s incantation of his great qualities as an ally against terrorism.

When Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi on October 18, 2007, a bomb blast very nearly killed her. She told her close advisers that she had not anticipated such anti Americanism before returning to Pakistan. She soon realized the unpopularity of the war against terror with which Musharraf and the Americans were associated. She began to change her tune. This did not prevent her assassination on December 27.

The deal to have a troika – President, Army Chief, Prime Minister – was struck between the Americans, Gen. Kayani, President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. After Benazir’s death and Musharraf’s departure the power structure in Islamabad was a quick improvisation having neither legitimacy nor acceptability with the people – a burden America carries to this day.

This is the real American dilemma as it embarks on an Af-Pak policy just spelt out: to find allies in Islamabad who reduce not multiply anti Americanism.

The “surge” will be concentrated in the Pushtun areas – Helmand and Kandahar. But US drones, in co-ordination with the Pak Army, will target the extensive Pushtun areas across the Af-Pak border.

There will be a blowback which will aggravate anti Americanism. What will help Washington at some stage is a civilian government in Islamabad which is not seen to be an American lap dog.

Since the Pakistan Army has in recent months taken casualties in the war, the blowback may not be as severe.

Look at the complexity. Anti Americanism continues to grow because of the war on terror. And yet we are being told that the Pak Army’s participation in the war no longer has such a negative echo among the people, that the “blowback” has weakened. We have to wait and see.

There is another piece of confusion. The US clearly makes a distinction between the Al Qaeda and the Taleban which New Delhi does not. The distinction has the effect of leaving the door open for a dialogue with “good Taleban”. This also leaves the Pakistan establishment with its “assets” in the Pushtun areas of Afghanistan in tact.

Yes, it is true that various Islamic groups – Uighurs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs of various descriptions did descend on Afghanistan to join the “holy” war against the Soviet Union and later, in response the Osama bin Laden’s call.

But most of these have apparently raised families in the FATA areas. Drone attacks on them will cause this obvious collateral damage. More crucially, how is a Taleban to be separated from an ordinary Pushtun?

Under these circumstances how will Pushtun nationalism on both sides of the border be contained? (This writer has been pessimistic on this score)

There have been in recent months facile comparisons with Iraq where the “surge” is believed to have worked.

No two situations are more dissimilar. US occupation of Iraq brought into the world’s focus for the first time a new reality: that (sixty five) 65 per cent of the Iraqi population is Shia. This majority population was so relieved of Baathist repression that, barring exceptions, they welcomed the US.

Also, US occupation has more or less secured Kurdish de facto autonomy in the north.

There are no such welcoming groups in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

For the first time in years there is an escalation in decibel level from Pakistan seeking Indian toning down of development work in Afghanistan and resolution of Kashmir to normalize bilateral relations. This possibly betrays a misreading of statements made by US military officers as hints from US government.

New Delhi’s position is fairly straightforward. As soon as the perpetrators of Mumbai are brought before credible judicial authority, the composite dialogue can be resumed. In this framework all issues, including Kashmir, will be on the table.

What Islamabad must realize is this: New Delhi sees balkanization of Pakistan a frightful prospect and will go any distance to normalize with Pakistan provided Islamabad resiles from its unreasonable, maximalist positions on Kashmir and Afghanistan.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Revisiting Politics of Temples and Mosques

Revisiting Politics of Temples and Mosques -- By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 26.11.2009

The Librehan Commission report on the events leading to the demolition of Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992 has once again brought into focus a deplorable chapter in Indian History. Sadly, no contemporary historian has so far analyzed all the dimensions of the catastrophic event. Librehan gives us only a unidimensional, flat narrative.

Several fault lines had got entangled. There was, ofcourse, the Hindu-Muslim fault- line but there were others, each aggravating the next one. There was the north-south factor within the Congress party. Upper caste- lower caste divide, amplified by the Mandal commission report. Finally, there was a divide among the upper castes which came across as a Brahmin-non Brahmin tussle, also primarily within the Congress party.

Let me explain.

In the 1991 elections, the Congress, with 244 seats (272 are needed to form the government) did poorly in the Hindi belt. The balance of power within the party shifted towards the southern states.

Since the BJP had emerged powerful in the north, (120 seats from two seats in 1984) a sort of unstated compact emerged, particularly between P.V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP would not be disturbed in its northern citadel. The Congress, short of a majority, would likewise not be threatened. This implied that Congress revival in the north would be kept in check. What was the game? Well, if the Congress revived in the north, leaders like Narain Dutt Tewari, Jagannath Mishra, even Arjun Singh may threaten P .V Narasimha Rao, India’s first South Indian Prime Minister.

There are conspiracy theorists who believe that P.V and his Sancho Panza, Home Minister S.B.Chavan, fell back on total inaction throughout the seven hours that the Babari Masjid was systematically pulled down because they were not averse to the BJP gaining in strength in the north to keep potential Congress challengers outside the playfield. Don’t forget, this was the very beginning of PV’s Prime ministerial innings.

Notice the paradox.
There is a north-south divide within the Congress, but an unstated north-south rapport between the Congress and the BJP.

Part of this latter rapport had its roots in the caste divisions sharpened by the Mandal Commission report providing reservation in Government jobs to the “other backward castes” or OBC’s.

In the south and the Deccan belt, social reform movements had gradually ironed out caste divisions since the 30’s. It was in the Hindi belt where the political consequences of Mandal Commission set into motion turbulent, tectonic shifts. Emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Kanshi Ram – Mayawati duet shook the entrenched caste elite which straddled both sides of the Congress- BJP divide.

The Ram Janmbhoomi- Babri Masjid conflict was the BJP’s device to consolidate Hindus around a potent, emotive issue. The Mandir movement, in considerable measure , was to neutralize Mandal. In other words, a desire to minimize Hindu fragmentation was at the heart of a movement which would not have become such a powerful movement had the Babri Masjid Action Committee not become the convenient counterpoint, incrementally and unwittingly strengthening the Mandir movement.

Another factor attended P.V.Narasimha Rao’s ascension to the Prime Ministership. In the 1991 elections. Congress leaders who lost were Narain Dutt Tewari, Lokpati Tripati, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Jagannath Mishra, Jitendra Prasad, Bindeshwari Dubey, K.K.Tewari, Vasant Sathe, V.N.Gadgil, Gundu Rao. All of these were Brahmins, clearly a casualty of caste politics aggravated by Mandal.

With 244 seats, PV needed tacit agreement with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP. This resulted in two contradictory schools within the Congress. K Karunakaran, like PV, encouraged a soft line towards the BJP for his own circumstances in Kerala.

There were RSS cadres in Kerala but the BJP had never won a seat. Since the RSS-BJP were primarily an anti Marxist force in the state, whenever the combination worked for the Congress, it made a difference of just that one percent vote needed for Congress led UDF to win.

But Arjun Singh had to fight the BJP tooth and nail in Madhya Pradesh. Little wonder he was totally opposed to the PV (and Karunakaran) line on the BJP. Over a period of time, this open disagreement acquired caste overtones.

The excitement generated by the Librehan report is temporary. It cannot resurrect the Mandir movement. The soufflé rises only once.

But the historian owes to posterity a clinical appraisal of the events leading upto the darkest chapter in Indian History.

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