Monday, September 27, 2010

Masochism and Commonwealth Games

Masochism and Commonwealth Games
Saeed Naqvi

The gratification derived from ones own humiliation is called Masochism. That this esoteric form of perversion would bubble over in such copious torrents on our TV screens, front pages of newspapers quite beats me.

During the test events in 2003 as a run upto Athens Olympic Games, a quarter of the volunteers quit due to transportation problems. E. Sreedharan, Managing Director of Delhi Metro, deserves applause for having put together an elegant, efficient Metro network in good time.

You would have to be blind not to see the pressure on our roads ease just a wee bit, despite the unprecedented rains.

Dogs who peed in beds Athletes would have occupied have also been in the news. Did you know that Athens authorities did not know what to do with 60,000 or so stray dogs one of whom bit the Ukraine Archery coach in the midst of a competition?

An outbreak of Salmonella led to the German rowing team from pulling out of the test events. A month before the games, Athens was hit by a massive power outage. The Greek Transport Minister was stranded while showcasing the test run of the Olympic rail link connecting Central Athens to the airport. At CWG weightlifting stadium, the ceiling would have to fall on Suresh Kalmadi’s head to compare with this one.

Ofcourse, the games were covered in the most positive light by the Western media. Remember, Greece is the very fount of Western civilization!

Contrast this with the all out war by the same media on the Beijing Olympics. A strand of hair a reporter found at an eatery was telecast worldwide as a gastronomical catastrophe.

Pall of dust from storms arising in Mongolia were described as lung busting pollution. When Beijing mounted the most spectacular show the world had ever seen, the same great media covered it, tail between legs, weakly applauding.

I am not for a moment suggesting that public anger at CWG mismanagement is misplaced. Excess of it is, when the baby is thrown out with the bath water. Those awkward smile of anchors, a sort of disguised self denigration, is actually a function of acute inferiority complex which has deep roots in colonialism and beyond. How we are, is not important; how the West sees us is. This “us” is exactly the rootless middle class which has not progressed beyond the lady who told V.S. Naipul in The Area of Darkness: “I am craze for foreign; simply craze for foreign”. In fact this middle class, aspiring from Maruti to Mercedez, has got much worse. It is totally disengaged from Bharat, 70 percent of which, as the Arjun Sen Gupta report has made famous, lives on less than Rs.20 a day! It is the top 30 percent who are going hysterical at photographs of toilets that have appeared in Britain. Oh! What will they think of us?

Lalit Bhanot of the Organizing Committee, of course, does not know that personal hygiene is an eastern virtue. The Inquisition in Spain, among its first acts, shut the Hamams in Cordoba. Mozart’s brothers died because bathing them with water was a taboo! English Kings carried their own “piss pots”. Sorry, their servants did.

And why blame the new middle class. What about our elite. Name an Indian Editor whose photographs would appear in Western publications. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, was all over our newspapers even as his fawning Indian hosts looked on. Why, junior anchors like Zain Vergi were all over the feature pages because they had come down to us from their BBC, CNN elevation.

Five mainstream Indian newspapers regularly publish, several times a week, columnists from New York Times, The Guardian or Newsweek. These publications do not have a single regular Indian columnists. Such intellectual servility!

And do you know the obstacles in the way of cleaning up the toilets in the games village? In our entire hospitality sector there is no system to hire toilet cleaners who can be promoted, say, to barmen, waiters, lobby managers. Toilet cleaner is a toilet cleaner – Mehtar, bhangi.

Deviously, the sector has approached a Malaysian company which hires the lowest in our caste structure and as part of a contract, then loans out their services to the service Industry.

Face these realities, twit! These are more embarrassing than the falling of a tile. Incidentally learn Kar seva, dignity of any labour, from Sikhs.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to Square One on Kashmir

Back to Square One on Kashmir
Saeed Naqvi

Wednesday’s all-party meeting on Kashmir followed the Cabinet Committee on Security, which dithered on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but said something about “governance deficit” in the state which, in simple English, means that the state Government is incompetent, weak or indifferent. The all-party meet was silent on that one. I am not for a moment suggesting that the participants had been gagged by Rahul Gandhi, who, by hint and gesture, had given his support to Omar Abdullah. Now that he has come out openly in his support, it will be interesting to see whether this reinforcement enables Omar to control the Valley.

The Wednesday meet in New Delhi must have been preceded by some back channel dialogue. The biggest success of the meeting is a matter of considerable significance: for the first time the PDP attended a meeting called by New Delhi.

Why has it taken New Delhi six weeks to hold such a conclave? Violence was expected on Eid day. 17 people died. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah all but threw up his hands.

It all seemed so manageable when I was driving up and down parts of the valley early June. Hotels were full. Queues for a gondola ride up to the higher reaches of Gulmarg were so large you needed a taxi to slot yourself at the very end. Roads looked ample, well paved (much better than parts of New Delhi these days) and the newer houses could well have been located in some of the posh colonies of India’s capital. Hunger was not an issue.

The chain of restaurants with an unlikely name, Hat Trick, had spread to over a dozen locations in Srinagar. Some of the management and kitchen staff were non Kashmiri. “Because our men prefer Government jobs,” a professor of political science at the Kashmir University explained. This fixation on “Government jobs” resembles an all-India fixation about 30 years ago when only “Government jobs” were considered secure enough in the controlled marriage market.

All of this normalcy was in large measure neutralised by check posts, sentries, Constantine wires and soldiers ringing the mountains, not always visible but always in everybody’s knowledge.

As for the Kashmiri angst, that anti-India sentiment, it is a phenomenon which waxes and wanes, but is always there. The gloomy turn of events in Pakistan, unfortunate for that country, have denied the Kashmiri of an occasionally flourished Pakistani option. Here was a chance for New Delhi to reach out to people nursing various degrees of grievances since 1953.

Oh, the anger of youth whether in newspaper offices or in university auditoriums! Why can’t “Bharat” let us be? Why are we in this prison house? Do you know that every house in the valley has a painful story to tell? Where was the Chief Minister during Shopian? There are mini Shopians strewn across the state. Do you know all this?

Sometimes their anger may have been unreasonable. But give them an honest, sincere, hearing and they are willing to be mollified. In fact they bought me a meal just outside the campus — at Hat Trick.

There was no anger with Omar Abdullah then. Yes, Srinagar journalists had begun to call him Pilot Project II. The implication was that just as the late Rajesh Pilot was a “buddy” of Farooq Abdullah, so is Sachin Pilot a close friend of Omar’s. Indeed Sachin’s wife is Omar’s sister. Pilot projects were mentioned with humour.

I would be lying if I did not mention one common complaint. Since Omar’s children study in a school in New Delhi, his wife has to live with the kids. This involves his having to spend his weekends in New Delhi — from Friday noon to Monday. As the administration moves to Jammu for six months of winter, the weekly absence of the Chief Minister leaves the valley without an on-hand administrator for extended spells.

It can be nobody’s case that this is a happy state of affairs, particularly when the valley is in the grip of unspeakable anger and violence which has taken a toll in lives which could soon touch 100.

It is my belief that both father and son, Farooq and Omar, are not sufficiently “provincial” to manage a province. They are cosmopolitan men with considerable potential on the national turf — and we are short of such personalities on the national stage. Imagine Omar campaigning alongside Rahul Gandhi throughout the country. The minority vote would be electrified — as would voters across the spectrum.

Well, the all party meet has accorded Omar protection to the extent that, if he can, he has a brief chance to redeem himself. It may not have been said but he should know that is the case.

Otherwise, state, and National Conference political dynamics will take their toll. The NC block president in Tanmarg had taken out the procession in which five people were killed. Will the NC not be in turmoil on this issue? What does the NC Chief Minister have to say?

As for New Delhi, the less said the better for its profound inaction. But now that it has stirred, let us keep our fingers crossed.

So far administrative inefficiency, absence of focus, irrelevance of possible moderates like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have given oxygen to the hardliners. Mirwaiz was invited by New Delhi for “top secret” talks. Then the story was leaked. Mirwaiz’s credibility came hurtling down. And now an FIR against him will not make him a David standing up to the Delhi Goliath!

But slowly, as Kashmir comes sharper into the PMO’s focus, with a possible setting up of a Special Task Force for Kashmir, one must take recourse to all the optimism which lies somewhere at the bottom as a residue.

But let’s not forget, for the politically motivated among the Kashmir protesters an almighty global audience is in readiness. The UN General Assembly meets soon.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

The Stuck Afghan Turnstile

The Stuck Afghan Turnstile
Saeed Naqvi

Ever since I have returned from Kabul, I am frequently asked by friends: when are the Americans leaving? When I say, “I don’t know”. I am dismissed like someone who has wasted his time in Afghanistan and returned without finding an answer to a universal query.

Even though President Barak Obama remains committed to July 2011, as the date for withdrawing American troops, those whose job it will be to supervise this withdrawal have introduced caveats:

That July 2011 is not cast in stone; withdrawals will be conditioned by the situation on the ground; only combat troops will be withdrawn; Afghan National Army has to be ready to takeover and so on.

While Gen. Stan McCrystal openly stated that a high profile in Kabul by New Delhi distracts Pakistan from its war-on-terror focus, even Gen. David Petraeus has done his bit to keep Pakistan humoured by talking privately of India’s “Cold start“ doctrine, a doctrine buried in Indian military archives, never mentioned in serious Indian discourse. But Islamabad has been able to sell this lemon to Petraeus until such time as the US switches off on this one – possibly near the Obama visit.

Augmentation by 30,000 troops has taken place. That is a fact. Withdrawal will depend on a variety of factors – including how well the “surge” works. That is speculation.

The Bonn Conference, convened by the UN Secretary General, set up, in President Obama’s words, “a provisional” government under President Hamid Karzai.

But that “provisional government” has lasted nine years. Indeed, at the July 20, 2010 Kabul Conference, convened by the UN, Karzai almost established his indispensability by obtaining a mandate (from the conference) that he would continue as President until 2014.

If President Karzai is to remain in Kabul till 2014, surely he will require protection till then. If US and NATO are to start withdrawing in 2011 or even 2012, given the caveats listed above, there will still be need for Karzai to be protected or accorded safe passage. Surely it is nobody’s case that by 2014 Karzai will capture the hearts and minds of all Afghans. We have some sort of script until 2014. But the script could change after the 2012 US Presidential elections.

Yes, mounting death toll (2000 coalition soldiers) and costs of war ($ 337.8 billion) against the backdrop of a declining western economy, are all good reasons for the US to leave Afghanistan.

Supposing, the death toll is brought down to, say, double digits annually and the costs of combat are substantially reduced, will the Americans still leave?

According to Russian estimate there are 30 US bases in Afghanistan. Of these, the ones at Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandhar, Helmand, Shindand (Herat), Mazar-e-Sharif are, by the sheer volume of masonry and architecture, not temporary. These bases will remain. Are we then talking about a qualified departure?

If the US is actually plotting departure, why is it building a consulate in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif on a scale which would dwarf large embassies. Renaissance is the only reasonable hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif. An entire section has been transformed into a dormitory for labour working on the US consulate. To the two gigantic blocks in the fortified embassy in Kabul with 700 personnel, a larger block is being added! US diplomats and Army officers in large numbers are learning Pushto and Darri back in the US.

If all these preparations for an extended non combat stay in Afghanistan are, in some parlance, tantamount to military departure, so be it. The US was to have left Iraq. But 50,000 will remain in the various bases which are, ultimately, like country houses – open the locks and they are fully functional again.

I have seen the US, after 72 days of relentless bombing of Serbia, create an independent state of Kosovo. But while departing they left behind Bond Steel, then the largest US base since the Vietnam War, in Kosovo, abutting Macedonia. Also, an entire hill had been taken over in Skopje, capital of Macedonia, to build an embassy larger than a medium size Indian Fort. Guarding energy routes from the Black Sea or elsewhere are one obvious strategic interest in this area.

Russians must be digging in likewise in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Supply lines to these bases will have to be secured. This means control over Karachi port and reports from Karachi are incrementally alarming. The rest of the route from Karachi through Balochistan to Afghanistan is never too far from Taleban and Al Qaeda friendly areas whether in Quetta or in Kandahar. This leads to another major US requirement: the security of Pakistan, at present fighting on multiple fronts. The unprecedented floods are aggravating all these fronts.

The supply route also gives Islamabad considerable leverage over the US. But to retain this leverage Pakistan must have control over this strategic territory. This leads to finger pointing at real or imaginary “mischief” from India. Balochistan’s border with Iran has occasionally livened up. What is not discussed sufficiently is the internal instability, the insurgency in Balochistan.

In the absence of alternative supply routes, Americans have an abiding interest in Baloch indeed, Pak stability. There is, of course, no dearth of theorists suggesting this route may also have a diversionary potential toward the Gawadar port the Chinese are building.

After listening to all this, my friends ask: But when are the Americans leaving?

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak
Saeed Naqvi

It is not a matter of four, eleven or all Pakistani cricketers failing the morality test. It reflects on a nation where the inner fibre is ruptured, a rudderless people, a system in putrid decay, an inner collapse being monitored closely from above, as if from a geostationary flying station, call it the Rawalpindi GHQ.

In geological time, when man reflects on the region so fertile in cricketing genius and so much else, there will be a footnote on the Army: it lost East Pakistan and then, in cussed pursuit of perpetuating itself, liquidated all that remained. The rot set in real deep during Gen. Zia ul Haq days.

When the first Pakistan cricket team under skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar visited India in the 50s, my autograph hunting years, a test match was allotted to Lucknow. The team stayed at the Royal hotel, now some kind of an office block. In those days Lucknow had three very Anglaise hotels – Carlton, Royal and Burlington.

In the middle of a large, open lounge at the Royal, was a semicircular bar, occupied by some of the Pak cricketers. A constable or two (for that was all the law and order machinery required those days) kept at bay a motley crowd of students, mostly from the nearby Islamia college, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Hanif Mohammad a 16 year old batting sensation, and others like Fazal Mahmood and Maqsood Ahmad.

Some of the boys, one Habib among them, an off break bowler at Lucknow’s famous Morning Star Club, found their way to the bar through a cavernous route from the pantry. Habib buttonhold Maqsood even as Maxi (as he was called) tried to balance his beer mug, froth spilling over.

“Aap ko sharm nahin aati, Musalman hote hue sharab peetey hain?” (You should be ashamed of yourself – drinking even though you are Muslim.)

This was not fundamentalism versus enlightenment. It was more of a class thing. Here was a cricketer from North India’s most cosmopolitan hub, Lahore, facing a provincial hick from Lucknow, in decay since 1857. They were both Muslims representing distinct social evolutions, conditioned by acceptance or aversion to Western education. Government college Lahore accepted it; Islamia college Lucknow didn’t.

These distinctions have remained in Pakistani society to this day. Maqsood was always in a minority in Pakistan as in most Muslim societies. But it was this minority which determined the social tempo in Lahore, Islamabad even Karachi despite Karachi’s socially variegated spread.

Maqsood (poor fellow had to admit to Habib) was not averse to Namaz or Ramadan. In this he was rather better than Ghalib who, when asked by the Magistrate to state his religion, replied: “I am half a Muslim; I drink but don’t eat pork”.

Waris Ali Shah, the Pir of Dewa Sharif, the splendid Sufi shrine outside Lucknow, had a remarkable reason for not saying his Namaz. “There is no space to go down in supplication” he said, “He is in me”.

There was space in Pakistan for open discourse upto the Zia period. It is from Zia’s Pakistan that poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz began to leave for other countries. From London, Farigh Bukhari wailed:
“ Ab to yun lagta hai Farigh, ki ayaz an billah,
Jaise Islam Yazidon ke liye aaya ho!”
(God, forgive me: these days it seems that Islam was only for tyrants and murderers like Yazid)

The faith Farigh laments was foisted on Pakistan by Zia partly to atone for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder, but much more to consolidate the Idea of Pakistan, as he saw it, a confirmation of the two-nation theory, that Pakistan was created because the sub continent’s Muslims could not live with them, the “Kafirs”. “We are because we cannot live with them.”

The theory was punctured, if not exactly buried, within 24 years of the nation’s founding.

The Punjab dominated army came down so hard on the East Bengalis for having won the election of 1970, that India’s intervention was sought to help create Bangladesh in 1971.

Now, relative to the terrain it had to look after, the Army became disproportionately larger. An army so huge for what purpose? To sustain the two-nation theory, ofcourse, now with greater vigour, to justify itself.

Bangladesh was just one blow to the two-nation theory. The bigger one was the survival of the world’s second largest Muslim population in India.

The great cultural commerce on the sub continent which has embellished both Islamic and Hindu cultures with shared motifs had, in Zia’s framework, to be terminated by a policy of a “perpetual” war with India. Pakistan has to dress itself in a West Asian, Saudi, double distilled Islam. Towards this end Maqsood, Ghalib, Waris Ali Shah, Faiz, Faraz, Farigh Bukhari, all had to be repudiated.

So now we have, in Ahmad Rashid’s words, “the mother of all insurgencies in seven tribal agencies”. Gunmen slaughtered 100 Ahamdias. Hundreds of Shia are killed in mosques routinely. Some days ago devotees of the Wahabi school blew themselves to kill dozens, wound 100s in a Shia religious procession. Ethnic political and sectarian violence takes the toll of a 100 in Karachi, the entry port for supplies to US troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mister ten percent, Asif Zardari will not budge. Politicians and their minions are making money like there will be no tomorrow. Sensible Pakistanis, who I believe are still in a majority, watch the country sink and queue up outside western embassies for visas, never to return. In cricket, a home series is played in England.

A sense of doom prevails and tragically, one of the great finds of swing bowling, Mohammad Aamer, sings his swan song at 18.

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