Monday, October 25, 2010

Karachi Cauldron Bubbles Over

Karachi Cauldron Bubbles Over
Saeed Naqvi

If the US is to stay on in Afghanistan’s half a dozen or so bases in the event of it scaling down its combat troops by July 2011, these bases will require a steady flow of supplies. It is in this context the continuing violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub and the main port for US supplies to Afghanistan, is disturbing for the US and NATO in addition to the people of Karachi.

In the past few months atleast 250 people have been killed in violence which is political, sectarian and, above all, a crucial tussle between Karachi’s largely moderate population and an increasingly assertive Muslim extremism. In fact it is an explosive brew of all these elements.

Post partition migration of population, mostly Hindus from Punjab, were described as “refugees” in the earlier years, but have since been assimilated totally. Two such people have been Prime Ministers of India – Inder Gujaral and Manmohan Singh.

In Pakistan the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar settled overwhelmingly in Karachi, have been institutionalized as “Mohajirs” or “refugees”. They brought with them their language, Urdu. Many paradoxes attended this language. Its very soul was forged in undivided India’s composite culture but it was made Pakistan’s national language. How does the very epitome of “ganga-jumni” culture enmesh with the evolution of a theocratic state?

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement or MQM became almost the sole representative of Karachi’s Mohajirs, a massive majority in Karachi’s 18 to 20 million population.

After the turbulence in Afghanistan since the 80s, waves of Pushto speaking Pathans (Pushtoons) have populated clearly demarcated areas which, over the years, have burgeoned into Pushtoon ghettos like Al Asif, just outside Karachi airport. There are now over four million Pushtoons and numerous such fortified ghettos which are no-go for non Pushtoons.

Over the years as Pakistan created its “Jehadist”, “Talebanized” “assets” in Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province, the militant Islamic streak has penetrated these ghettos and begun to condition them.

The Awami National Party or ANP, a political force confined to the NWFP, is making inroads into Karachi’s politics. The aspiration to create political base in Karachi has grown in direct proportion to the ANP’s decline in NWFP where it is increasingly despised as being part of the Pak establishment which is in cahoots with the Americans raining bombs or targeting areas with unmanned drones. ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali, cannot easily enter NWFPs premier city, Peshawar.

In this atmosphere, Haider Raza, MQM member in the Sind Assembly, was assassinated in August leading to riots in which a hundred people died. This was in addition to the tit for tat murders between rival gangs affiliated to rival political and ethnic parties which are Karachi’s almost daily routine.

Add to this cauldron ultra fundamentalist outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba pushing their rabid anti Amadiya, anti Shia agendas and you have vapours of confusion and strife choking Pakistan’s biggest city.

The reason for the latest wave of violence unleashed last week was the by election for the seat made vacant because of Haider Raza’s murder in August. Haidar Raza had polled 80,000 votes as against ANP’s 923. This time, the ANP, presumably fearing a similar drubbing, announced on the eve of polling that they would like elections to be halted because they feared the MQM would “rig” the elections.

Four MQM supporters were picked up. This was followed by indiscriminate firing in which 33 people were killed and many more wounded.

As for the results of the by election, well, MQM polled 91,000 votes against ANP’s 210. The violence is, to all appearances, a consequence of sections of the ANP unable to cope with a humiliating electoral defeat. Also, the indiscriminate violence is a means to intimidate the MQM’s silent support base.

Farooq Sattar and Babar Khan Ghori are two MQM ministers in the coalition at the centre. If the MQM withdraws support or joins the opposition, the government in Islamabad could collapse.

The survival or otherwise of the PPP led government is not such a momentous development.

What is critical is the slow and steady growth of pernicious, intolerant ways of designing Islam where civilization itself is condemned as apostasy.

A more frightening development than any in recent weeks was the attack on October 6 on the Sufi shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi. This follows attacks on Lahore’s most revered shrine.

Karachi, in addition to being the centre of the MQM, also happens to be the capital of Sind, the sub continent’s most Sufi inclined people.

It is all a catastrophe waiting to happen in the port city indispensable to US war effort in Kabul unless, of course, in some distant future the mist lifts and some Iranian ports swim into focus.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

US – Pak Spat: Another Repeat

US – Pak Spat: Another Repeat
Saeed Naqvi

US-Pak relations are like high risk aerobatics. The plane nosedives, loops up, cruises at varying altitudes, takes a few spins and steadies.

Relations are going through a similar turbulence these days following a helicopter strike which killed three Pak soldiers. Pakistan, in anger, blocked the supply route to the US deployments in Afghanistan. US, or NATO or ISAF (take your pick) trucks were set on fire by militants.

The US has been bending repeatedly in apology, looking rather like the Japanese handing someone a visiting card.

Shooting off target and bending over in apology is a routine ritual eversince the US entered the Af-Pak turf after 9/11.

The US troops are under pressure from the White House to show results in Afghanistan. Pakistan is equally adamant to demonstrate its indispensability towards this end.

The perilous path from Karachi port through Balochistan into Afghanistan is territory totally mapped by the Pak Army. That the route is never far from Kandahar and Quetta means it is within the surveillance range of Taleban and Quetta Shura on which a section of the Pak establishment would like to project as having some influence.

Billions that Pak receives from the US for this partnership and billions more it earns by being a supply route is not enough recompense.

Islamabad would like to have a decisive say on who occupies the gaddi in Kabul. Hamid Karzai does a the moment and he has obtained from the International Community, at the July Conference in Kabul, that he would remain on the throne till 2014.

If the Americans were to scale down in Afghanistan by 2011 as Barak Obama has ordained, who will protect Karzai in Kabul? The US will, ofcourse, because it is only “scaling” down not departing by that date.

What is the White House demanding Gen. David Petraeus to achieve that would help Democrats in the November Congressional elections? I bet Gen. Petraeus does not know. So he expands special operations, another expression for Commando raids and flies drones into Pakistan’s mischief areas like Waziristan and occasionally pulls out his handkerchief to wipe egg from his face when poor targeting dependent on poorer intelligence, kills Pak soldiers, civilians, children for the umpteenth time.

In this fashion, running to stand still, Gen. Petraeus will see the Congressional elections through. Should he still be at the job, he will see the US Presidential election through in 2012 too.

It is conceivable the choreography will look even more untidy with Hamid Karzai getting more strident in his studied anti Americanism. Finally American cartoonists appear to be getting a hang of things in Afghanistan. A recent cartoon shows Karzai, his Afghan cape over his shoulders, seated on a carpet with a bearded Taleban. Karzai says “Down with America”. The Taleban responds: “Death to the infidels”. Behind the foliage a grinning American and US military officer say to each other. “Good they are talking”.

Karzai has been complaining to all and sundry, that the Americans are not striking at Pak terrorist bases. Mullah Omar’s confident, Abdus Salaam Zaeef, and Karzai’s bitter critic, the former Tajik Head of the National Security Services, Amrallah Saleh, all converge on this point: the US is not striking at Pak bases.

Hence the recent Drone and Helicopter gunship attacks, inviting a roar of disapproval from Pakistanis for loss of military lives and invasion of sovereignty.

Every voice in Afghanistan says: the enemy is headquartered in Pakistan. But Pakistan says we are your allies in this war; don’t violate our sovereignty. The message from Washington is: show results in Afghanistan. What does Gen. Petraeus do in the circumstances? A little bit of this and a little bit of that – until the Congressional elections are over.

In the midst of all these complications, why is Karzai calling the US names? Because, the US is no longer out to defeat the Taleban. It wishes to weaken it. At that point Karzai can start negotiating with the Afghan Taleban. To harmonize with the broad Anti Americanism of the Taleban, Karzai must build an anti US plank too.

It is quite extraordinary, that Hamid Karzai, handpicked by the Americans nine years ago must now stoke anti Americanism in the interest of the US.

For how many more decades will successive US administrations succeed in keeping away from the American people the harsh truth that Zillions of dollars worth of their money is spent in expeditions in far off lands where their nations is hated? Pakistan is another such.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

What Should Muslims Do?

What Should Muslims Do?
Saeed Naqvi

What should be the Muslim attitude to the Ayodhya verdict? He had, at the very outset, agreed that he would accept a court verdict. The verdict is out. And now?

“Bahut khamosh, bahut pursukoon samandar hai,
Magar woh shor jo paani ki teh ke andar hai!”
(The sea is silent, peaceful. But, oh, the turbulence beneath the surface!)

Justice Sibqat Ullah Khan in his 285 page judgment has given the example of the Treaty of Hudaibiya which Prophet Mohammad signed with the hostile tribe of Quraish in 628, barely four years before his death. It had been six years since the prophet and his followers left Mecca for Madina.

After these years, the Prophet with a caravan of 1,000 men on his way to Mecca for Haj reached Hudaibiya. Quraish had made it known that they would block Muslim entry to Mecca. The Prophet consulted his companions: should the caravan return to Madina or proceed, risking a battle. Intermediaries carried messages both ways. All that the Muslims wanted was to perform Haj at Mecca. This the Quraish were adamant to prevent. Eventually a truce was agreed upon. Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, drafted a treaty. The prophet dictated that it was a treaty between “Mohammad, the Prophet of Allah, and Quraish”. Interlocutors for Quraish objected. They did not recognize him as God’s prophet. Ali, his cousin, refused to drop the preamble. The Prophet intervened and himself deleted the phrase, thus paving the way for a Treaty which declared a truce between the two sides.

The terms of the treaty were obviously insulting to the Muslim. For instance, despite the compromise, they would not be allowed to perform Haj that year. Next year they could, provided they stayed in Mecca for only three days. There were other apparently demeaning clauses. The pact was loaded in favour of the Quraish. Many described it as abject surrender.

In modern military terms, the treaty turned out to be a sort of tactical retreat, because in a matter of a few years Muslims had conquered Mecca.

What “conquest” is recommended in Justice Khan’s sermon, for that partly is what it is? If you study the parable of Hudaibiya alongside Iqbal’s couplets Justice Khan so aptly quotes, his message is clear: communal disharmony has to be conquered. What tactical surrender must Muslims make towards this end?

Where is the national leader of sufficient stature who can distil the message from the treaty of Hudaibiya and from Iqbal, and give it contemporary relevance? Or, in a more narrow focus: where is the Muslim leader to manage the post verdict mood? I believe the Congress has two or three but the nation has not seen them in the past week.

Ofcourse, the judgment is faith, folklore, mythology superceding facts. How should the Muslims cope with the verdict? Bear the judgment with dignity. Ofcourse, go in appeal to the Supreme Court, but let the secular Hindu occupy the foreground. See how many there are willing to take up cudgels for the rule of law. It is not only a Muslim battle after all.

There is a great deal in Justice Khan’s judgment which makes for fascinating reading.

For instance, Tulsi Das (1532-1623) wrote Ram Charit Manas from 1574 to 1577 less than 50 years from the date of the building of the mosque after the alleged destruction of the Ram temple. Would a Ram Bhakt like Tulsi not have been aware that a temple to the Lord of his adoration been destroyed five decades ago? And if he knew why would he not write about it?

The judgment records:
“Several learned counsels appearing for different Hindu parties tried to explain this vital omission on the ground that Tulsi Das was afraid that in case he mentioned it, the Moghul Emperor of the time would not like it and he would be harmed.”

In other words, cowardice has been attributed to Tulsi Das by the defenders of Ram before the Allahabad Bench. If they only knew that Tulsi Das was one of the most respected names in the Moghul court. Surely the considerable rapport between Tulsi Das and Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, possibly the most influential nobleman in the Moghul court, is proof enough. The greatest Sanskrit Poetry in praise of Ram in the medieval period was written by Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, Tulsi’s contemporary.

So, what should the Muslim do? Take a back seat in the Babari Masjid – Ram Janambhoomi arena. Why? Because while you remain embroiled, the communalist will use you as a fulcrum for his politics. And the secular Hindu?…………… well, let him stand out and be counted. Rule of Law is very much his business too.

When the Monsoon session of Parliament opened, the Prime Minister invited opposition leaders for dinner. The BJP declined because of action against Gujarat Home Minister, Amit Shah. Result: not once was Amit Shah mentioned throughout the session by the ruling party. On foreign policy, Palestine, economy, Nuclear Liability, forward trading in food grains, Kashmir, Pakistan. Can you locate the dividing line between the BJP and the Congress? Also, remember the Ayodhya related dates: 1949, 1986, 1992 and now 2010 – Surely you know which party was in power on these dates, just as you know the Rath Yatris.

Step out of the Ayodhya arena. Justice Khan suggests, remember your Prophet at Hudaibiya. Then watch the intra-Hindu dynamics without anyone blaming you for communalism. Watchfully, take stock of friends and foes and respond electorally, in the most democratic manner available.

Ghalib said:
“Laag ho to usko hum samjhein lagao.
Jab na ho kuch bhi to dhoka khaaen kya.”
(If there was even an inclination, I would have accepted it as affection. When there is neither, why should I fool myself.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Between Caesar and God

Between Caesar and God
Saeed Naqvi

Premature punditry on the Ayodhya verdict is a little bit like writing commentaries on Shakespeare after only reading Lamb’s Tales

Rapid readers will take days and weeks to digest approximately10,000, 4,000 and 260 pages of the judgments on Ayodhya delivered by Justice Dharam Vir Sharma, Sudhir Aggarwal and Sibqat Ullah Khan, respectively.

An impression had been created by a sideshow in Lucknow since September 15 that somehow the judgment was going in favour of the Muslims. On that day Justice Sharma, an avid Ram Bhakt or devotee of Lord Rama, accepted an application that the judgment, due to be delivered by three judge bench on September 24, be deferred so that the parties to the dispute can arrive at out-of-court, compromise settlement. He did this without consulting the other two judges.

The matter reached a two judge bench of the Supreme Court which was divided on whether or not a compromise was possible. The quest for a compromise on an issue which had defied settlement for decades, indeed centuries, was seen as a desperate desire to “defer” the judgment – because deferment would, for a variety of reasons, be for years. The engine for deferment was an undiluted Ram Bhakt, Justice Sharma. He was on the bench and therefore knew exactly which way the judgment was inclined. Why else would he seek deferment? It was therefore assumed that the verdict was “not” going in favour of the Hindus. It followed, in simple minds, that it was probably favouring the Muslims.

It is against this background that the responses aired by the two sides so far must be placed. Hindus, who thought the tide was turning against them, are relieved at the verdict. This sense of relief is being given a “spin” of triumph. Conversely, Muslims, expecting victory, are disappointed.

Had Justice Sharma succeeded in “deferring” the verdict, the response of the Muslims would have been loaded with irony. They would then have nursed a grievance that the higher judiciary had denied them justice.

The astonishment handed down by the court is coming across as stunned reflection. Time, in any case, has proved a healer. Even though there was much hype, most of it generated by an otherwise restrained media, there was no frenzy.

The leaderless Muslim community, before it could reflect, was hustled into continued litigation by the lawyer for the Sunni Waqf Board, Zafaryab Geelani, who proclaimed that he would go in appeal to the Supreme Court. Good luck to Geelani and the Sunni Waqf Board. I propose an international award to him for having read, digested and produced a legal response to atleast 15,000 pages of legalese penned by the Ayodhya Bench. And he performed this feat within the space of three hours!

Where was the need to rush when the verdict itself gives three months to all sides to, first, read the judgment, then consider, deliberate, accept or appeal. The pre emptive announcement is a function of fear that alternative, possibly more sensible views might begin to emerge from within the Muslim community.

Let me give you the reaction of my mother, now 94, who lives in our village, Mustafabad in Rae Bareli. She was cryptic: “Saanmp marey, na laathi tootey” (Kill the snake; don’t break the stick). In other words, kill the “snake” of Hindu-Muslim tensions without breaking the stick. It is difficult to explain ancient aphorisms but the “stick” in her approach is Hindu-Muslim harmony.

Yusuf Muchhala, convener of the legal cell of the Sunni Waqf Board, says the three judgments appeared to be a “mix of facts, principles and mythology”. This may be a succinct observation but, like, Geelani he is making observations without having read the judgments, the reasoning behind what the lordships have concluded.

As far as I am concerned, I grew up in Lucknow and never heard of Babari Masjid until the locks to the temple were broken. The subsequent story is charged with communal politics – on both sides.

Ayodhya is both, a matter of Hindu faith and grist to the mill of communal politics so long as Muslims are the foil. That is the complication. Babari Masjid, on the other hand, is a matter of Muslim hurt. Scabs form over bruises. Wherever the Muslim turns towards Kaaba is his mosque. Reflect for a month. Think of ways to bring down the edifice of communal politics.

Unless the community disenges itself from the grip of backward leaders, it will be left holding, Babari Masjid, Shah Bano, Muslim character of Universities, Salman Rushdie, corrupt Waqf Boards, while the country and the world move on, into another zone almost.

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