Monday, December 26, 2011

Remembering A Crisis As Pak Sinks Into Another

Remembering A Crisis As Pak Sinks Into Another
Saeed Naqvi

President Bill Clinton’s five day visit to India in 2000 followed by a five hour stopover in Islamabad convinced New Delhi that the world order had changed. Relationships were to be shaped by the new post cold war realities, not old loyalties.

But quite as abruptly, this order was once again re fashioned by President George W. Bush, post 9/11. Pakistan became a frontline state all over again.

Oh, the praise that was lavished on President Musharraf, mornings and evenings, by President Bush as “our most reliable ally”. This “most reliable of allies” kept a plausible manner in fighting the American war on terror as its very own. This entailed a shrewd selection of enemy targets: which target to hit so as to minimize the blowback. That this was an impossible circus act, soon caught up with Musharraf. There were those deep differences with President Hamid Karzai who repeatedly pointed out Pakistani fingerprints on Taleban activity in Afghanistan

A regular pattern emerged in which Musharraf and Karzai accused each other of being “soft” on Taleban on the other side. This mutual recrimination implied an absence of concerted action against the Taleban. This suited Pakistan to the extent that it kept Pushtoon nationalism on both sides of the Durand line from flaring up uncontrollably. In Kabul this has never been much of a concern. It does not recognize the Durand line.

Contemporary International politics these days is sometimes not determined so much by ground realities as by the manner of their projection on Washington’s late night serious talk shows. These shows began to focus excessively on Musharraf’s “double dealing” in the war on terror. This at a time when the war in Iraq was by now an unmitigated disaster.

Republicans were proceeding towards the 2009 elections in a daze, with reversals in Iraq being compounded by the mess in Afghanistan. Noises in the US became more shrill by the day that Musharraf was either unwilling or unable to wage effective war on terror.

To still some of these noises, large scale US and Pak military action in Swat and Waziristan were launched with predictable consequences. The blow back shifted from Afghanistan to the Pak side of the border. The entire Pushtoon belt along the border was in a state of rebellion.

Lal Masjid in Islamabad had flared up occasionally since 2001 but in 2007, Ghazi Rashid and Maulana Aziz raised their decibel levels against Musharraf “fighting America’s war” against terrorism. Followed assassination attempts on him. Military action on Lal Masjid coincided with the lawyer’s agitation. Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry began to press for he missing persons cases, something that would have brought the Army’s participation in the nasty “renditions” under the arc lamps at a time when the Army’s reputation was the lowest in living memory.

Removing Musharraf at this juncture would have meant going soft on the “war on terror”. Also, President Bush could not be seen to be dumping his “most reliable ally”, particularly when the “ally’s” neck was on the line.

It was then that a formula was devised to have a troika consisting of a President, Prime Minister and Army Chief replace the lonesome figure of Musharraf. The troika, not just Musharraf, would be exposed to the ever stronger blowback from the war on terror.

Such was the wave of anti Americanism that when Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi, after having recklessly promised a fight to the finish on terror and allowing nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to be interrogated, that she became easy prey for determined assassins. Asif Zardari is, therefore, an unintended consequence of a deal that was struck between the Americans, Benazir and the Army.

As Pakistan proceeds towards a new scenario which includes fresh elections, a few facts from 2008 elections: Nawaz Sharif untainted by American and Army affiliations, came up trumps in the Punjab. And, something I will never forget about that campaign: neither India nor Kashmir were mentioned even once. A common refrain in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was: an enemity and a friendship have cost us dear. But that was many moons ago even though optimists may like to keep their fingers crossed as preparations are under way for the Commerce and External affairs Minister to visit Islamabad.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button
Saeed Naqvi

Just as Europe is beginning to look economically desperate, Turkey next door looks like the very picture of economic, political and strategic stability. The ultimate irony, ofcourse, is that after having prepared itself on every possible count for eligibility to enter Europe, Turkey is no longer interested in Europe.

Paradoxically, having to fulfill the criteria for European entry, Turkey has had to improve all its institutions. These many improvements will have stood Turkey in good stead whether or not it ever enters Europe. For the foreseeable future that project appears to be on the abandoned list.

For years German, French and various central European leaders have held that Europe was basically Christian in its religious and cultural orientation. And, now the sheer economic decline of Europe may trigger a rethink at a time when enthusiasm for Europe is at its minimal in Turkey.

A region where the Americans have been leaning on Turkish help has been the Balkans. The warmth in US-Turkish equation climaxed with the creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo.

It is therefore not surprising that whenever US-Russian relations dip, the Russians locate a place in the Balkans from where to exert pressure on the Americans.

Recently, at the time when tensions were being ratcheted up around Syria, the Russian sent their fleet into the eastern Mediterranean in support of the Bashar al Assad regime.

Since Kosovo has been carved out of Serbia, the northern enclave called Mitrovica, contiguous with Serbia, is often restive against Muslim Kosovar domination. The minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, have been blocking roads and border crossings dislocating supplies into Kosovo.

This year, in the process of poking their finger into the US and Turkish eyes, thousands of citizens of Mitrovica made a public demonstration of their application for Russian citizenship. The move was designed to underscore pan Slavic nationalism, as well as to expose the fragility of American hold on Kosovo. It is generally not recognized that despite all their joint exertions, the US and Turkey have not been able to mobilize recognition for Kosovo beyond a dismal figure of about 45 states which includes countries like Nauro.

To balance the US creation of Kosovo, Russians too have not been tardy: they have carved out of Georgia, the two pro-Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and Ossetia.

The tight embrace between Russia and the Southern Slavs of Serbia is on account of two factors: the inseparable Slavic bond and an equally durable Orthodox Church linkage.

For Turkey the Balkans are an area of co-ordination with the US and possible contention with the Russians.

In Iraq, one would normally expect the Turkey-Iran rivalry to extend. But this has not been the case so far. In fact the very fact of American presence in Iraq has had the effect of bringing Teheran and Ankara together on the Kurdish issue.

The evolution of the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world has generated some enthusiasm among the Justice and Development party (or AK party). First, Prime Minister Teyyip Erdogan was welcomed in Cairo and Tripoli with the sort of fanfare which was once reserved for leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The extraordinary charisma of Erdogan became a huge incentive in the rapidly transforming Arab world. He became a model to emulate. Turkey became the democracy to follow.

That Erdogan has Akhwan ul Muslimeen roots, makes him interested in the expansion of the Akhwan turf across Arab lands.

It was this positive response to the Brotherhood that was at the heart of Erdogan’s change of heart towards Syria.

Kemal Ataturk’s secularism was a mirror image of the Ba’ath secularism in vogue in Damascus. But after Erdogan won three elections in succession on a platform of mild, Islamic conservatism, Kemalist secularism became irrelevant to his purposes without his having to do anything about it.

This mild variety of Islamism which is Erdogan’s hallmark, was sought to be promoted in Syria. Bashar al Assad was invited to accommodate this variety of the Brotherhood in the political reforms he was being persuaded to undertake.

But before Assad could get into his stride, Stephen Ford, a 007 like US ambassador, was running around the country creating conditions for civil war. This kind of aggressive diplomacy has had the effect on Assad to press the pause button which has then been played up by the media as his dictatorial obstinacy.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

US-Pak Love-Hate Takes A Dip

US-Pak Love-Hate Takes A Dip
Saeed Naqvi

Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, Director General, Pak Military operations, says NATO Forces were alerted that they were attacking military posts but the helicopters kept attacking. The death of 24 officers has raised a storm in Pakistan.

During the early years of the US invasion of Afghanistan, it was fairly common for the US, NATO or ISAF to hit wrong targets. Military officials, attached to various embassies in Kabul, were full of stories on how the local “contacts”, part of the improvised mercenary intelligence, had deliberately misled the Americans to attack, say, a wedding party belonging to a tribe with which the “contact” had an old score to settle.

Countless scores were settled. Every incident had its own novelty, but the broad pattern was similar. The military official, mostly American, would be taken to an obviously secure place to meet a “contact” who would demand money, arms, and thousands of yellow packets of food. The “contact” would ask the US official to hold his fire until he, the official, got a signal to summon the helicopter gunships to exhaust their magazines on the other side of the hillock on an Al Qaeda training session. On numerous occasions, the target was a wedding party.

Double dealing with the Americans was built into Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s U-turn to fall in line in the war on terror. Musharraf was being invited to destroy exactly the forces Pakistan, Saudis and the Americans had diligently trained to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.

As the center of gravity of the war on terror gradually shifted from Afghanistan to the Pakistan side of the border, consuming Musharrf, destabilizing an internally tense and divided Pakistan, bringing a new set of political actors, the Pakistan army became less willing to part with all the “Mujahideen” assets it had built up once an Afghan Endgame became the incantation.

This enlarged the trust deficit between the Pak Army and the Americans. The US sergeant incharge of a communications center involved in the attack which killed Pak soldiers, gave no credence to Pakistani protestations. The US and Pakistan are coordinating their war on terror in an atmosphere of total mistrust.

There is a school of thought in Kabul, close to the intelligence community which believes that Pakistanis cross border mischief in Afghanistan will continue until the Americans frontally take on the GHQ in Rawalpindi.

The growing divide between public opinions on both sides of the Af-Pak border may also come in handy at a time when the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the US is in the bargain. It reflects on the adversarial Af-Pak equation that the souring of US-Pak relations helps soften the Afghan mood towards the US, an enabling condition for the Agreement.

Pakistan has no option but to respond to Public outrage. Blocking of the two NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and denying the use of a Baloch airfield to the CIA is actually a low risk retaliation when Iran, Hezbullah, Syria are much more in the eye of a huge, global storm.

Iran’s Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of Aerospace Division, has raised the stakes in the region by declaring that Teheran will target NATO missile shield in Turkey if Iran is attacked by Israel or the US.

All these distractions notwithstanding, the blocking of the NATO supply routes is no trifling matter either. Even though a large percentage of the supplies now take the central Asian routes, at least 40 per cent of supplies have to traverse Pakistan.

Further, Islamabad’s virtual absence from the Bonn conference on Afghanistan upsets the White House script on an issue of considerable interest in the build upto the November 2012 US Presidential Election.

President Barack Obama has created an illusion the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan by, say 2012. The script will emerge in bolder relief by May 2012 when Obama will host an important conference on Afghanistan. The conference, in Chicago, with NATO and other stakeholders in attendance, will take stock of the situation at that stage. It is just conceivable the global recession will be overshadowed by a war for which clouds are already gathering in and around the straits of Hormuz. Will a nice, big war help Obama’s re election?

Whoever wins the election, the script in Afghanistan until 2014 and beyond will be written by that new administration after November 2012. You need a superior clairvoyant to enlighten you where President Hamid Karzai may be resident after 2014?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Media Lies: Basra Fell 17 Times Says BBC Reporter

Media Lies: Basra Fell 17 Times Says BBC Reporter
Saeed Naqvi

My first encounter with Western propaganda was during the Sino-Vietnam war of February 1978.

I was in Beijing as part of the media team which had accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s Minister for External Affairs. Deng Xiaoping, who had warned he would teach Vietnam a lesson, carried out the threat without taking Vajpayee into confidence, although other non aligned countries like Yugoslavia were informed.

The Indian delegation, faces in the lower mould, cut short what was billed to be a historic visit, and left for home after that mandatory shopping in Hong Kong.

I applied for permission to visit the front. The Chinese promised they would try. Two days later they said a visit to the war front was not possible. I rushed to Bangkok where the ever helpful Abid Hussain (who retired as Ambassador to US) introduced me to a scion of the distinguished Bao Dai family who obtained for me the priceless visa for Hanoi in a jiffy. In Hanoi the all powerful Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Xuan Thuy, arranged for me to be driven to a vantage point on the hill with a commanding view of Lang Son where the most decisive battle of the war was fought. The celebrating, rejoicing soldiers in Lang Son confirmed Vietnam’s victory.

The Indian Express front paged the Lang Son datelined story in which it was clear that Vietnam had won. Ranjit Sethi, who was in our Beijing mission sent me an ecstatic note but Defence Secretary, Sushital Bannerjee, was more cautious. Was I sure of my facts because the western media was saying quite the opposite?

I countered: “How could the western media say anything without having covered the war from either of the fronts?” I was the only foreign correspondent in Vietnam. The Chinese had refused.

It was clear the triangular strategic balance Kissinger had sketched, Washington-Beijing-Moscow, was not going to be allowed to be wrecked by the media. The new US ally during the cold war, China, was not going to be exposed to negative publicity for being defeated by a country which had just a few years ago driven the US itself out of Vietnam.

A huge question mark was placed on my Vietnam-victory story which otherwise was a scoop. Even my editor, Sri Mulgaokar was more inclined to accept the Western version than one having been put out by his own reporter. It took years for global conventional wisdom to change: Vietnam had, indeed, won the 1978 war.

The western attitude of simply ignoring a version not to its liking was effective largely because of considerable indigenous preferential support for the foreigner’s point of view.

Birth of the global media with the CNN’s live coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1992 was gingered up by advances in techniques of media management. Many of us in Baghdad speculated war may not take place because of the American’s post Vietnam aversion to body bags on TV screens.

So, the Anglo American combine took care to hide the body bags “totally from view”. The monopoly of TV coverage was with CNN’s Peter Arnett on the terrace of Al Rashied hotel. By the time of the Intefadas, Bosnian and Serbian wars and occupation of Iraq, BBC World Service too was in full cry.

With each war, the technology for propaganda has been consistently refined, as in Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera exposed the Western media’s lies. Leaders of the free world bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, a fact Ragge Omar, the once star BBC reporter cannot ever forget. “We reported the fall of Basra 17 times, each time a lie”, says Omar.

By the time of the Libyan and Syrian action, Qatar had made up with Saudi Arabia in solidarity of monarchies. So BBC and CNN tried to minimize damage to their plummeting reputation by quoting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia distortions.

Now comes the scandalous case of the satirical programme Parazit supposedly telecast from Teheran to lampoon the regime. The programme actually beamed from LA, is totally financed by the US government. Go on your youtube and you will find Hillary Clinton being interviewed on Parazit. Indeed, CIA Chief David Petraeus says future wars will be in the Information Space.

What space for a credible media now?

Meanwhile, everyone is catching on, including the Wall Street protestors.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Such A Thin Audience For Pilger

Why Such A Thin Audience For Pilger
Saeed Naqvi

“The War You Don’t See”, a stunningly honest portrayal of the deceptions of modern warfare kept a small audience at the India Islamic Centre riveted earlier this week. The film is by one of the best known war correspondents, twice winner of Britain’s journalist of the year award, John Pilger, who introduced the documentary and answered questions. The thin attendance, therefore, was both a surprise and a pity.

Half the audience, a modest total of about 50, had received no invitations. True the Indian Express had published an interview with Pilger some days ago but had given no indication of a film show. There were no advertisements, no posters, no notice. Did the organizers have cold feet? Were they warned by the funding agencies?

One expected the precocious Indian electronic media to be in some token attendance to see a film of great relevance today. Not one showed up.

Since it was the Islamic center, one thought Muslims would be there in full force since they are being hammered everywhere in wars Pilger exposes. Yes, there was an apostate Shia in the audience, but no Muslims. Some Muslim countries have long arms but I doubt if they have the sophistication to be able to manage attendance at the India Islamic Centre. Whatever the reason for this apparent indifference to a remarkable piece of journalism, a great deal of guilt lies at the door of our profession – journalism.

Not only are we incapable of the sort of journalism which has placed Pilger at the top despite the establishment, but we even shy away from an instructive film just in case our presence is cited as evidence against us! Or, is it, that we are afraid looking into the mirror?

Pilger traces media manipulation to the first World War when “embedded” journalists first made an appearance. The great ideologue who set into motion the propaganda industry was Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud who moved to the US from Vienna, became a journalist and applied his uncle’s psychoanalytical concepts and extended them to crowd psychology.

Little wonder, Bernays served President Woodrow Wilson’s administration on the committee in Public Information during World War I. He was responsible for promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”.

Since the word “propaganda” acquired a negative connotation because of its use by the Germans during the war, Bernays blazed the trail of what the copycat world describes as “Public Relations”.

The most powerful idea is one which, when in control of the mind, leaves no room for curiosity about its source. It has become an organic part of the life of the mind.

Take this nugget from Bernays: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Quite incredibly, Bernays lived as long as his ideas enclosed the so called free minds. They are still in full gallop. The man died in 1995 at the age of 103! Repeat age of 103!

Sometimes there is very little difference between state control of the media and the promotion of a delusion about a free press. This delusion leaves yards of space for “engineering consent”. It might in these circumstances be fair to ask whether a cuckold is better off than a witness to infidelity?

In the case of colonized minds, the tragedy is two fold. Bernays, however perniciously, was serving the interests of the United States. But whose interest is the great Indian media serving when it allows itself to be co opted into the Bernays framework?
As we all know, the reality or the pretense, of the endgame in Afghanistan is of crucial importance to India. Already, an India-Afghan strategic partnership agreement is in place. The Afghan-US agreement is being dragged on by the Loya Jirga and the entire Afghan establishment.

Why? Because the Americans are unpopular and the Indians are not. In fact if an Indian TV team were to travel across Afghanistan, it would have friendly reception almost everywhere except some knotty junctions of conflict.

And yet Western TV crews, along with their Afghan stringers are all over the place. You might argue that Western crews have the entire NATO war machine helping them out.

Frankly, the great advantage of being an Indian journalist is the access Indians can have on all sides – occupiers and their victims.

And yet the Indian media prefers to be under the Bernays canopy, even avoiding an excellent evening that might have jogged the mind about the grand delusions we nurture about our freedoms.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Rahul Will Wait As President of Ruling Party Or of Opposition?

Rahul Will Wait As President of Ruling Party Or of Opposition?
Saeed Naqvi

Eversince Indira Gandhi centralized political power and proceeded to be distant, pundits have not been very convincing they have a grip on political information, leave alone wisdom. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the present Congress “High Command”, the situation these days is even worse. A report by Amitabh Dubey on the way the cookie might crumble within the Congress Party, has caused pundits to carry neatly folded clippings of the document and make appearances at parties with the sort of glint in their eyes which comes from knowledge.

Universal credibility was accorded to the report because he is the son of Suman Dubey, Rajiv Gandhi’s schoolmate. No surprise, then, that Amitabh knows Rahul Gandhi quite well.

As Director of London based Market Research Consultancy, Trusted Sources, Amitabh is required to keep investors, who are his clients, posted on important political events in India. Heaven knows how the story leaked to the Economic Times.

The inside page story on October 30 carried the headline: “Rahul Gandhi as PM will galvanize Congress says his analyst friend.” The repeat on November 5 had a different heading: “Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress Chief in weeks.” Then on November 6 “Rahul Gandhi now needs to rewrite campaign”. The first sentence in this story was: “Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of India’s Grand Old Party shortly……………..”

Just when the Pundits had begun to greet each other with that I-told-you-so bravado, the chairman of the Congress Media department, Janardhan Dwivedi, who occasionally knows, said something which was neither a confirmation nor denial of Amitabh Dubey’s appraisal, just a statement to keep the issue, and himself, in play.

Dubey’s report for his business clients had also hinted that Manmohan Singh may be on his way out by 2012, when the crucial UP elections are due. The implication was that a more dynamic Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister might impact more positively on the Congress outcome in UP.

Alternatively two other reliable candidates mentioned were Defence Minister A.K. Antony or Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar but the first was “too slow” in taking decisions while the second had “no administrative” experience. Names of Pranab Mukerjee and P. Chidambaram were mentioned with the rider that the open spat between them may have “hurt their chances”.

Dwivedi answered media queries in these words: “there is no suspense about it. He (Rahul) has a role, which is increasing constantly. In natural course, his role will go on increasing. This is what Congressmen want and this is what in their opinion is natural.” He then tosses the political googly: “Congress President Sonia Gandhi is here to lead the party and she will decide what to do and when.” This does not contradict earlier stories, only places the coronation cap in Sonia Gandhi’s hand.

The Congress sometimes divides itself into three coteries even though the principals, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are by themselves mostly in one huddle.

Sonia Gandhi’s unfortunate health is no longer a mystery. What is not known is her ability to cope with the workload Congress Presidentship requires, now that the election season is opening up. It makes immense sense for the family and well wishers for Rahul Gandhi to be strategically positioned to step in just in case Sonia Gandhi’s health requires him to.

This, it turns out, is Rahul’s best bet for the time being until the UP elections are out of the way in March 2012. Should the party do as well as some leaders like Digvijay Singh expect it to, Rahul’s time will have arrived to lead the party in the 2014 General Elections as Prime Ministerial candidate.

But the swollen ranks of pessimists on that score within the Congress may tend to obviate that possibility.

In which case Rahul follows his mother’s formula: Heads, I win; Tails, you lose. That is, I remain leader either of the ruling party or the one in opposition. I am only 41, I can wait and watch. And build the party.

For a party which is squeamish even about carrying out minor cabinet reshuffles, I don’t see how people are contemplating high voltage drama like looking for a Prime Ministerial change in such perilous times.

So, the Prime Minister stays on even as his detractors rub their eyes in disbelief, astonished that “The old man hath so much blood in him!”

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ask For I & B Report on Public Service Media, Justice Katju

Ask For I & B Report on Public Service Media, Justice Katju
Saeed Naqvi

In his avatar as Chairman of the Press Council, Justice Markandey Katju has raised a storm by describing the Indian media the way it is. Had he been around during UPA I, he would have received support from the Prime Minister who had set up a committee to chalk out a blue print for a Public Service Media.

While Indian newspapers have a history of over 150 years and therefore a built in mechanism for atleast minimal self correction, the electronic media came riding on Dr. Manmohan Singh’s economic reform in 1992.

The arrival of the Indian electronic media coincided more of less with the launching of the Global media by the West when Peter Arnett of the CNN reported operation Desert Storm from the terrace of the Al Rashid hotel in Baghdad. For the first time in our lives, we watched a war, live, in our drawing rooms.

The outcome, its live coverage, registered as triumph with the West, but as Muslim humiliation with the entire Muslim world. A humiliated, demoralized Muslim world became fertile ground breeding anger and revenge, raw material for militancy and terrorism. The Indian media had from the very beginning developed a poor-cousin relationship with global media: we shall cover national affairs and take footage from you on world affairs which we shall cover rarely. You shape the world; we shape the country.

When terrorism spiraled out of control on 9/11, the war on terror had to be launched. Taleban, who accorded hospitality to Osama bin Laden, were hammered out of power with logistical help from Pakistan. In the process of being hammered, some Taleban and Al Qaeda found sanctuary among cousins in Pakistan where many of them had, in any case, been trained by the ISI to fight the Soviets.

And now as NATO, the US and the Pakistan army exert themselves to eliminate militants they also kill innocent civilians. Every elimination results in a dozen militant recruitment centers opening up. The result is that moderate civil society in Pakistan is on the backfoot. The Army cannot show its preference either way for fear of agitation in its own ranks. The country is teetering on the brink, a scary scenario for the region.

Having established this background, let us revert to Markandey Katju’s critique of the Indian media.

“The media often divides the people” says Katju. “Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India, within a few hours, TV channels start saying an email or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-mohammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. Now an email and SMS can always be sent by a mischievous person who wants communal hatred. Why should they be shown on TV screens and next day in print? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb throwers.”

In its attitude to “terrorism”, the Indian media is in large measure imitative of the West. At the outset it did not even see the lack of logic in the way battlelines on the subcontinent were drawn by the West in its war on terror.

Since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the spare, high voltage Islam manufactured in Afghanistan struck in Kashmir. Some of the Afghan Arabs are now looking for work in Benghazi too. Cross border terrorism from Pakistan plagued India for decades. But after 9/11 the US enlisted the very same Pakistan as its frontline state in the global war on terror. US ambassador Robert Blackwill explained to Indians: “cross border terrorism was part of an old regional conflict; it was global terrorism that Pakistan had joined the US to fight.” Only after the December 13 attack on Parliament did New Delhi acquire equal status in the global war on terror.

Ofcourse, Katju is spot on as far as the media’s coverage of Muslim terror is concerned. He is equally right on the market driven focus on Formula 1, Lady Gaga, Mettallic group, bollywood gossip, fashion and other razzmatazz in a country where the majority are poor. And, ofcourse, a disproportionate 24X7 on Anna Hazare for ten days without a break.

Something else that needs to be brought into focus is the understanding between the Indian and global media on the coverage of foreign affairs. Is there an understanding indeed an agreement, that Indian channels will focus only on national and local issues and that foreign affairs will be covered by BBC, CNN, Reuters, AP etc? The Prime Minister, like Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee before him, is all too aware that India will never be at the global high table unless it has its own eyes and ears cover world affairs.

Is it not a shame that there is no Indian bureau in the SAARC countries, none in the countries where the so called Spring is breaking out? The mind of our decision makers on Libya for instance, is shaped by journalism which is from the countries raining bombs on Libya. Our journalism would have provided balance in such a polarized situation. During UPA I, several meetings were held in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to devise a Public Service Media insulated from the government and the market by a high powered Board of Trustees. At one such meeting an official asked a question which will remain etched on my mind as a stunner. “Supposing such a channel has a bureau in a country where there is deep American interest, will the bureau slant the story or cover it honestly?”

Justice Katju, ask for a copy of the report, that is if a report was ever prepared. I can vouch that meetings were held and I attended them.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Reasons Why Qaddafi Had to be Killed

Reasons Why Qaddafi Had to be Killed
Saeed Naqvi

The irony is that a handful of small minded men in England and France have set up a tragedy of epic proportions in the Libyan desert which the blind have not yet seen. It will take a latter day Joseph Conrad, with his sweep of colonial history and a steady gaze on the depth of the human soul, to put it all together. But lesser works will come sooner. At the moment events have numbed us all. Chaos will follow like a hurricane. The story will begin all over again.

It is a pity that Philistinism, an essential companion to unbridled Mammonism, has taken its toll of artistic creativity. Jack Keruak, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlingetti, the great writers of protest, the Beat generation who cleared the air for the youth eruption at Haight Ashbury, the hippies who, despite their depravities, had the instinct to set up a platform for Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha at Woodstock. That verve and spirit has not yet broken through the ranks of Occupy Wall Street. But that too will happen.

Remember, David Hare’s most pertinent play, Stuff Happens was on London’s West End within months of Bush, Cheyney, Rumsfeld and Condi blundering into Iraq. Even as George W. Bush was campaigning for re election, the play Guantanamo was shaming the Washington establishment off Broadway. From Sardi’s Bar in New York’s theatre district, hoardings for “Enron”, America’s 2G, were going up.

The liberal conscience, in other words, has not exactly died in the midst of the West’s money making orgy. But what about the 5,000 year old civilization called India where Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra One is the only aesthetic enterprise? Enron, after all, took India for a ride. A government was cobbled up for 14 days so it could sign the Enron deal. Likewise scripts on the Qaddafi saga will follow as Stuff Happens did on Iraq.

Qaddafi must have heard stories from the elders of his tribe – how Libyans had to walk in drains at the sight of an approaching Italian soldier. Libya in those days was under the control of Ottoman Turks, a fact which explains the presence of a young Turkish officer, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (remembered as Ataturk) is several battles with the Italian occupiers. It was about this time that the legend of the Libyan hero, Omar Mukhtar was being born.

Two decades earlier, a 23 year old Winston Churchill, ranked a captain but a correspondent for the Morning Post graphically described the British exterminating “the Mahdi’s army in Sudan”.

But the Mahdi, Mukhtar and later, Qaddafi, were all victims of what Churchill called “the mechanical scattering of death which the polite nations of the world have brought to such monstrous perfection.”

I can see eyebrows being raised at Qaddafi being placed alongside a Libyan hero like Omar Mukhtar. Mukhtar challenged the colonialists for 20 years, until the Italians captured and hanged him in 1931. Well, Qaddafi was proud of his record: over 40 years he had defied the “imberialists” (imperialists).

Ofcourse he was vain, possibly even a narcicist contemplating himself as a Mao-Nasser amalgamation, a fountain head of wisdom contained in his unreadable Green Book. But (it must be added in parenthesis) there was something mesmeric about the theatrical way he carried himself, upright, which was a huge contrast to the obese Arab potentates seated on Western laps. He was audacious to the point of being cheeky: “Israel should have been settled in Alsaice and Lorraine!”

When the West’s very favoured were being blown away in the “Arab Spring”, how could the West permit the survival of a person whose entire persona over four decades has evolved in defiance of them.

Ofcourse, oil wealth, the miraculous Great river project, his record of support for Palestine, for the IRA, his brazen contempt for Saudi rulers, his unbreakable links with Africa were all good reasons for his termination. But what was totally unacceptable to the West was his fierce independence. He was realistic enough to notice the currents of history. That is why he made peace with the West once the Soviet umbrella was torn to shreds. And yet he could not help hoping that the trend could be reversed. When he asked Atal Behari Vajpayee to initiate moves for a reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it was a crazy dream and he knew it. “I know, I know” he said “But remember they make us fight to remain powerful. We should unite and take them on.”

Did he have a premonition of his eventual end when Ronald Reagan had Tripoli bombed in 1986. “If they gill”(kill) me, they will not know where to bury me because “beoble” (people) will find my grave.”

So, after much procrastination they have put him away in a secret location in the great Sahara desert where in compulsive reversal to his beduin roots, he sometimes pitched his tents with his camel in tow. And now they will not let his son Saif ul Islam live: he knows too much.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tripoli Diary

Tripoli Diary

Nostalgia in Tripoli
The first meeting with Muammar Qaddaffi was the most dramatic. It was exactly a week after President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of this city on April 15, 1986.

In a sense, the current Anglo-French enthusiasm for Qaddaffi’s elimination completes the circle begun with Reagan’s air attacks. Remember, the Reagan-Maggie Thatcher combine had taken upon themselves the daunting task of reversing the process of Western decline after US defeat in Vietnam, emergence of communist governments in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua plus powerful communist parties in Italy, France, Spain. The attack on Libya was part of Reagan’s counter offensive, climaxing in the Star Wars project leading to Soviet implosion. This alas was followed by Neo Cons overreach and the fall of rampaging capitalism, Occupy Wall Street. The Anglo-French rush into Libya is (partly) to keep the wolf from the European door.

Yes, that memorable first meeting. Past midnight I find myself being driven to Bab el Azizia, the fort like compound where Qaddaffi lives. Foreign Minister Kamel Maqhour greets me at the gate. Then, past a series of rectangular spaces to a dimly lit room with low ceiling, like a spruced up army camp. Behind a rectangular table, in air force over alls, a black embroidered gown over his shoulders, and flanked by gorgeous, well chiseled women body guards, (one ebony black the other, its marble counterpart) stands Qaddaffi. It is a stunning trio, like an ad for a fitness parlour.


Man for Thatcher
The conversation bristles with self conscious sexuality. Reagan attacked him to impress Margaret Thatcher, he laughs.

“He is a failed actor who became President of a great power and he wants to show he can move fleets, big war machines. He is suffering from old age. He wants to finish the world before he goes. I have studied psychology. I know what I am talking about. He has a special relationship with Thatcher – he wants to prove to her that he is a man.” Men from Sirte, reared on camel’s milk, are known for flaunting their macho sexuality.

He looks athletic compared to the Kings and Sheikhs who populate Arab summits. His arrogant carriage is itself something of a taunt. Occasionally he adds insult to injury by calling them “lackeys of imperialism” provoking outbursts some of which have become part of Arab summit folklore. At a summit at Sharm al Sheikh Prince Abdullah (now King of Saudi Arabia) screamed across the table, pointing at Qaddaffi, “Kalb” which means “dog”.


Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative
At Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative, Non aligned foreign ministers decide at their meeting in New Delhi that a delegation of foreign ministers led by India’s Bali Ram Bhagat should proceed to Tripoli in the spirit of NAM solidarity.

Rajiv asks me “aren’t you covering the story?” His special assistant Ronen Sen navigates my request for an interview with Qaddaffi through diplomatic channels. At Tripoli’s hotel Mahar, I buttonhole Bhagat and hand him a copy of my interview request to be handed to “the leader”. I was granted the interview, but, ironically, Bhagat was sacked soon upon his return. Reagan apparently threw a ginger fit at the Indian initiative.

Qaddaffi, meanwhile stepped up his diplomatic contacts with New Delhi. His son, Saif ul Islam visited India with a “sealed” letter from Qaddaffi for Prime Minister Vajpayee. This was in 2001, after Qaddaffi had made his peace with the West. In those days Qaddafi was a ghost of his former self, like an actor without a stage.

The letter is his “new internationalism”. He urges Vajpayee to take the initiative to “reunify” India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a reversal to the pre 1947 structure! Vajpayee is amused. He should take up the project first with Pakistan, Vajpayee suggests with a glint in his eye.


Shikar Trophy
The straightforward colonial solution as to what to do with Qaddaffi’s body would have been to hide it from people who might be tempted to build a shrine around which might grow popular movements – like the last Moghul emperor dispatched to Yangoon to die in the garage of a junior officer or, better still, like Osama bin Laden tossed in the sea.

Why did the West want him to be killed? In his appraisal to me, Qaddaffi was on target: oil, one of the world’s largest reserves of under ground water, an angry clergy choked by his secularism, his links with Africa, promotion of African population in Libya annoying the Mediterranean Arabs, unwavering support for Palestine and, ofcourse, “my fierce independence”.

Only when the mist lifts shall we know how many of Libya’s six million population divided into 140 tribes will agree on a leader through the democratic route.

It must enthuse the faithful that every kick on Qaddaffi’s body was accompanied to the sound of “Allah o Akbar”. Is this not poetic justice for a man who had banned the Mullah? The most educated in a community could lead the Friday prayers. He had opened the World’s first military academy for women, something women in Saudi Arabia will have to wait for a hundred years.

For such misdemeanours he was shot at close range and even as his body lies in a freezing room, a BBC camera brings a young, unknown reporter into focus, kneeling next to the body, with the triumphant look of a shikari over a trophy.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

West Sets Up The War Within Islam

West Sets Up The War Within Islam
Saeed Naqvi

Concerned European powers should instantly round up Libyan immigrants by way of evasive action just in case they get very angry at the sight of Qaddafi’s body being dragged through the streets of Sirte, kicked and punched. In time, anger will pass even as TV cameras dwell selectively on the unspeakable chaos in Libya, which will skirt oil installations. Pull back the camera and take a wide angle view of the larger picture.

The scene is now set for a first class conflict within Islam (Libya included) stretching from Pakistan right across the Arab world, North Africa embracing large swathes of sub Saharan African. On occasion this conflict within will spill over as terrorism abroad.

When the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan got into a scrum to launch a programme of manufacturing triple distilled mujahideen Islam in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets the seeds were sown for a conflict within Islam as well.

The three had the same agenda but different emphases: the US wanted to oust the Soviets; Saudis a Wahabized Islam as a bulwark against Shia Iran. Pakistan’s Zia ul Haq saw in the Islamization project in the vicinity an end to his country’s existential problem of national identity. Hard “Arabized” Islam would replace a more “Indianized” Islam.

Reverberation from the Iranian revolution were felt in pockets of Shia dominance in Bahrain, oil rich eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Lebanon, but the tremors were mild. What shook the regimes which host these Shia populations was the consequence of US occupation of Iraq – emergence of a Shia ruled Iraq,

The psychological effect on Syria of a Shia dominated Iraq was considerable. Sunnis are a bigger majority in Syria than Shias are in Iraq. Yet, the minority Alawis in Syria control the reins of power. Even though the Alawis, being Baathists, were quite as indifferent to religion as Kemalist Turks were, the consolidation of Shia power in Iraq (in addition to the continuing patronage from Iran) has had the effect of causing them to admit to their Shia tilt. If the Baathist blanket frays a little more (and it is fraying) a potential can be developed for Sunni-Alawi tensions.

In Lebanon, the Hezbollah derives directly from Iran and Syria. But sectarianism here can be overdrawn. Consider the trio’s resolve behind largely Sunni Hamas in Gaza.

This embarrasses Riyadh which seeks status in the Arab street where Iran, a non Arab entity, is miles ahead in the popularity stakes on account of its strident support for the Palestinian cause. Little wonder, former ambassador to Washington, Turki al Faisal, has warned the US that Riyadh will break ranks with Washington if a two-state solution for a Palestinian is not swiftly found to wrest the initiative on this score by the “two pariah states”, - “Syria and Iran”. Never has a Saudi Prince spoken more bluntly. Saudis, he said, would adopt an “independent and assertive” foreign policy “like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed”. Saudis would pursue other policies at odds with those of the United States, “including opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and refusing to open embassy there despite American pressure to do so”.

Without mincing words, Turki al Faisal, has sketched the sectarian faultlines Saudi Arabia is excavating.

In Pakistan, the civil society moderation towards India, for instance, is occasionally scuttled by “the India centered” army. In the context of the Afghan war and particularly after the Lal Masjid fiasco in 2007, the civil society itself is fractured, the moderates now on the backfoot. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, a somewhat cornered army is wary of the Haqqanis of this world, for whom moderation is anathema. Is the Army itself divided between Haqqanism and its exact opposite which is continuously losing ground. The conflict is raging.

In Afghanistan, the Pushtoon are divided between Durranis and Ghilzais who together are in conflict with Tajeks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

In Egypt and Tunis, the softer Islam bequeathed by the Fatamids between the 10th and the 12th century is not exactly comfortable with a thin band of Salafism in the Muslim Brotherhood, hardened because of the Mubarak dictatorship, and his use of the war on terror to keep the hard state in place. Zaidis and the Huthis in Yemen, the Arab and African Muslims are the Central faultline exemplified by Darfur. Both varieties of African Muslims run into potentially the most violent faultline between Muslims and Christians in North and South Nigeria.

With this thumb nail sketch of the backdrop, consider the effects of the “Arab Spring” with those horrible pictures of a dead Qaddafi fresh in our minds. When authoritarian Muslim societies open up, mosques play a decisive role because they have been the only social, political ventilators. And, when the choice is between soft and hard Islam, it is the latter which keeps determining the tempo of the discourse, raising the decibel level as it responds to external stimuli like the NATO bombing of Libya, War on terror, Mid East Peace, unilateral US action in Pakistan’s tribal belt, rubbing of Hamas election results, pulverizing Syria, Lebanon or Gaza by sanctions or any other means when the scramble begins for oil and gas in the waters of the Levant, threatening to leave Afghanistan but building bases larger than a dozen Red Forts.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

For Love of Democracy West Prefers Islamisation In Syria

For Love of Democracy West Prefers Islamisation In Syria
Saeed Naqvi

The luxury bus leaves downtown Cam hotel to Qassion mountains for a panoramic view of the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited city, Damascus. The picture has to be sketched because outside Syria everyone is counting on the level of chaos we did not see.

There are diplomats, journalists, scholars, some NGOs too, invited by a Syrian think tank to study the current situation. Edward Lionel Peck, former US ambassador to several Arab countries was in the group. From the Ahlatala Café at the Qassian heights, the vast expanse looks the very picture of tranquility. The city’s calm is all the more noticeable because, thanks to the media, we have been conditioned to expect tension, conflict, street protests.

“No fireworks here” the manager of the Café intervenes. Derra, Alleppo, Homs, Hama – “those are the cities where you might see some action”.

An Indian businessman invites me to spend the evening with a Syrian Sunni family he has known for long years. The husband is a retired civil servant; the wife dons a white chiffon scarf. She has a sad, beatific smile on her face. Her two daughters in frocks are constantly replenishing the centre table with fruits, baklavas, scones, soft drinks, Turkish coffee – endless hospitality.

The negative media focus on Syria in recent months has erased from minds the continuing reality: the country is among the few remaining parts of the Arab world where elegant, gracious living is still possible.

“But it may end soon” the wife says, wiping her tears. “Can you imagine – I have to wear this scarf now”. She is Sunni who are supposed to be with the Islamist rebels opposing the Alawi ruling elite. Then why is she unhappy wearing a scarf? Syrian social order is in turmoil.

The population of Syria consists overwhelmingly of Sunnis – say 80 percent. The biggest minority are Alawis, in their origins a Shia Sect but as a result of decades of Baath party training, have shed their religion. They are secular in a non religious sort of way, rather in the image of Mustafa Kemal Pasha or the more Socialist, left leaning Jawaharlal Nehru, a blend of an abiding local culture and western education.

Until the Ayatullahs came to power in 1979, Teheran, Istanbul, Beirut, Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Baghdad, Algiers, Tunis and any city in Morocco, and even Tripoli had among their populations the most secular elites. The secular enclaves may have been few but emphatic secular presence was a check on mindless religiosity. How was the secular stamp rubbed out in most of these societies in the space of three decades? Each city has a different narrative. The narrative of Damascus is currently in the making.

With the world’s media arrayed on the other side, it is difficult to persuade those who would care to listen, that it is secularism which is fighting with its back to the wall in Syria.

But the narrative the media beams about Syria is: Assad brutalizes his people.

It can be nobody’s case that Arab monarchies and dictatorships, Kemalist Turkey and Shah’s Iran were paragons of liberal democracy, if that be such a non negotiable value. But a certain elegant urbanity was available in these enclaves. In Cairo and Beirut, this urbanity came along with a sparkling intellectual life. Mubarak’s Cairo stilled the fizz. An anti intellectual aridity crept in which gradually overwhelmed most of the cities listed above. Damascus, believe it or not, is the last bastion where one can sit with friends and discuss ideas.

What, then, is our hostess that evening so distraught about? The growing religiosity travelling from across a post Kemalist Turkey and post Saddam Hussain Iraq have generated peer pressure for the scarf. And now, the impulses which brought in the scarf are providing hospitality for Islamism to topple the Baathist structure. Islamism is being preferred to secular Baathism by the US, Europe, Israel (Saudi Arabia) because the move removes Syria from the Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas chain. The regional chessboard changes.

Historically, in Syria Sunnis owned most of the lands and the rather poorer Alawis gravitated towards the army and other services. Just as the great Red Army, in the ultimate analysis, turned out to be a Russian army, the Yugoslav army, a Serbian army, the Syrian army is mostly an Alawi army. This army is the backbone of the Baath structure. Much the largest membership of Baath party comes from the Sunni majority for the obvious reason.

But they do not have as much of a “control” on power as the Alawis do particularly since the ascent of Hafez Assad in 1971.

There has always been a little bit of Muslim Brotherhood of varying strengths throughout the Arab sub stratum. The Iranian revolution in 1979 and breakdown of the Lebanon power sharing system after the Israeli occupation caused something of a stir in the central city of Hama, inviting a brutal crackdown by Assad in 1982.

The “Arab spring” broke up into three theatres – North Africa upto Egypt. Britain and France are to this day trying to manage the mess they have created in Libya. The Saudis are at the wheel on Bahrain and Yemen. Syria appeared to have been spared. Then Turkey began to look like a good model for Arabs in search of the electoral route. Moreover, if Syria can be fitted into that scheme, Iran will lost an ally and Turkey will gain influence.

The media has taken up the project with its concoctions and exaggerations. Double check this last fact with Ambassador Peck who is quite as puzzled. Meanwhile the lady with the scarf will swear by the holy book that she and her family in Alleppo have seen arms being funneled in for the protestors from Turkey. Others talk of Protesters being armed from Iraq and Jordan, a story the media will not investigate.

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All Talk Of US leaving Afghanistan Premature

All Talk Of US leaving Afghanistan Premature
Saeed Naqvi

The Indo-Afghanistan strategic partnership is also an important backup for the region because of uncertainties on account of the run upto the US Presidential elections in November 2012. During the campaign Barack Obama faces the impossible task of explaining American policy on Afghanistan. After 1,500 lives lost and $500 billion spent, what will the President’s men put out in the public domain as achievements of the Untied States in Af-Pak?

Obviously a theme projecting some sort of success has to be gradually given shape. Towards this end a meeting in Oslo, Norway, has prepared for the important Foreign Ministers summit on Afghanistan to be held in Istanbul under Turkish auspices in early November.

The script from Istanbul will help shape the agenda for the important conference in Bonn in December.

This conference is, in some measure, at Hamid Karzai’s initiative. At the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010, Karzai asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to host a follow up conference ten year after the 2001 Bonn conference. Merkel has given a signal for a conference of a 1,000 delegates from 90 countries.

The contact group for this conference, consisting of Special Representatives for Afghanistan from 50 countries, met in March in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In other words, the energetic Turkish-Saudi duet on Afghanistan are exactly the ones playing an aggressive role in the Arab theatre.

By design or accident, Turkey’s quarrel with Israel enlarges the country’s constituency in the Arab street.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erodgan has the endorsement of the Saudis to co-ordinate moves with the Muslim Brotherhood to pressure Assad, either to vacate or to accommodate the “Brothers” in a new Syrian dispensation.

At the other end of the Muslim world, Saudis are also hand-in-glove with Islamabad in regional and GCC enterprises. For example the Kingdom of Bahrain leans on Saudi military support which, in turn, uses its influence in Pakistan to hire mercenary soldiers for several GCC countries particularly Bahrain.

Turki al Faisal, former Saudi Ambassador to Washington and Intelligence Minister, has in a recent article in the New York Times, said if the US does not support the Palestinian bid for statehood, the “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the US will be seen to be toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims. In which case Saudis may part company with the US in pursuance of their own policy in Afghanistan too.

What is the implication of this threat? It is a pithy statement considering that the Saudis in large measure financed and accorded logistical support to the “Mujahideen”, a project which later morphed into Al Qaeda and Taleban. Not just the Haqqani network but the entire militant project in the Af-Pak region is not exempt from Saudi influence. The Saudis will work hard for damage control in the current Pak-US spat too.

Equally, Saudis and Pakistanis have their ears close to the ground on secret negotiations on a “long term” security arrangement between Washington and Kabul. An agreement would imply American military presence in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline by when 1,30,000 US troops are supposed to leave. Saudis are comfortable with this arrangement because it fits into their anti Iran strategy but their allies, Pakistanis are unhappy with anything that limits their influence in a future Afghanistan.

Numbers of US troops departing are quite as unpredictable as the shifting deadlines for the date of their departure. First, Americans were to leave by 2011. Then the Obama team changed the deadline to 2012 when the “American departure from Afghanistan” could be laced into a script being prepared for the Presidential campaign.

Meanwhile at the UN sponsored Kabul conference in July, 2010, Hamid Karzai declared himself President until 2014.

Is it anybody’s case that Karzai will have captured the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by 2014? What happens to him after that date? Also will an Afghan army capable of guaranteeing the nation’s security be in place when the US troops clamber onto departing aircraft? Everyone knows the US will never vacate bases in Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Shindand, Mazar-é-Sharif and so on.

Some sort of script will be firmed up in May 2012 when President Obama has invited NATO allies and sundry others for an Afghan summit in Chicago, barely six months before his bid for a second term.

How the Afghan script will change after the US elections will depend on whether Obama wins or loses. Until then all talk of US troop departure is grossly premature.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Did Pataudi Derive From Urdu Composite Culture Too?

Did Pataudi Derive From Urdu Composite Culture Too?
Saeed Naqvi

I thought the din had died, but the memorial meeting in New Delhi triggered some more nostalgia on Tiger Pataudi.
Miliye us shaqsh se ki jo adam hovey,
Naaz apne Kamal par usey kam hovey.
(Meet the person who is, above all, a human being! Who carries his achievements with modesty)

There is no fuss in Mir Taqi Mir’s description of the man he holds in high esteem. Tiger Pataudi is probably chuckling somewhere at this somewhat pretentious reference. But the simple couplet goes some distance in explaining the aura in which Tiger has been shrouded these past few weeks. No fuss: that was the cardinal ingredient in Tiger’s carriage.

In a general sense, a triple hierarchy defines the highest rungs of the Indian elite. The princely order, for one, would come under the broad feudal category. Second, two hundred years of British experience left behind another category – Macaulay’s elite. Third has been the most durable, if not the most glamorous, caste elite.

A combination of the three would appear to be a compelling formula for unbeatable charisma. But, it turns out, mere possession of these attributes does not make for an outright winner. There were other, compulsory pre conditions for a winning combination – good looks, speech, demeanour, carriage and that inexplicable agent of attraction called phiromenes, which some people exude to attract others of their kind.

For all these elements to come together is a rare enough occurrence, but Tiger Pataudi exceeded even this rare configuration. His achievement as a cricketer, youngest ever Indian captain, one who knit together the greatest quartet of spin bowlers in world cricket, authoured the country’s first overseas series win, stroked the ball along a silken carpet and that supple agility in the covers which earned him the title, Tiger.

If this is hyperbole, where does one fit in other details: his sporting lineage, for instance, in addition to the princely one. His father, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, played for England and captained India. He had a gentleman’s disdain for Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tactics to contain Bradman. “This is not on” he said. “This isn’t cricket.” This lack of obsequiousness was a trait Tiger inherited.

It is so appropriate that Tiger should have held Jawaharlal Nehru as something of a model. They shared several elements in their background – aristocratic demenour, education, achievements in totally diverse fields.

Put it down to my biases, but that extra élan they had, derived from a shared composite Urdu culture.

Pandit Nehru’s “mother” tongue was not Kashmiri: it was Urdu. This, because like hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit families, the Nehrus had settled in Oudh. In fact they played a pioneering role in shaping Urdu literature.

Tiger’s grandmother came from the family of the Nawab of Loharu with which the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib also had links.

The word “Nawab”, unlike “Raja”, resonates in Urdu. The basic character of Urdu derives not from religious texts, but elegant agnosticism, a certain irreverence bestowed on it by its poets. It is this broad Catholicism which explains Nehru’s aversion to religious rituals at his funeral. He shunned religious rites. Nehru most lyrically wanted his ashes to be sprinkled on the Ganges, the Himalayas.

Did Tiger have any “will”, for his funeral, that he should be buried according to a strict religious code? If I know anything of him, he must have left his family totally confused where to look for a “moulvi” of suitable affiliations to perform the last rites.

In the framework sketched by Urdu poets, a distance from dogma associated with the clergy is an essential pre condition for realization of my Truth. Little wonder, throughout the annals of Urdu poetry there is not a single passage of any note which has a good word for orthodoxy, dogma, wares that the clergy peddle.

I have dwelt on the Urdu component in Tiger’s personality because it also gives him an indigenous platform on which is settled his very anglaise persona, making for an integrated human being, rather like the person he held up as a model. Without the Discovery of India, Nehru would have been something of a rootless person, neither here no there, complaining to his father, Motilal Nehru, that he had made an outrageous mistake in hiring an English governess for his sister, Vijaylaxmi, in total violation of custom prevalent among the British aristocracy which placed a premium on French governesses. Mrs. Vijaylaxmi Pandit told me this story. But proximity to Mahatma Gandhi and the national movement changed all that.

With his insights into the game why did Tiger not commentate more or serve on cricket boards and so on? Also, why did he not join politics? Because he could not. That would involve what the vagabond poet Jafar Zatalli calls, “ghusar phusar”. He told an interviewer “I don’t think I would have achieved very much more by running around”.

Yaas Yagana Changezi warns “Dawar-e-Hashr” or “Creator”, not to lose sight of the profound distinction between “banda-e-naumeed” and “banda-e-beniaz”, a disheartened loser and the elegantly indifferent, one who couldn’t do the “running around” and which others including “Princes” do all their lives for pointless prominence.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Police Joins In Gopalgarh To Kill Muslims: Rings A Bell?

Police Joins In Gopalgarh To Kill Muslims: Rings A Bell?
Saeed Naqvi

Home Minister P. Chidambaram would do well to take a 20 mts helicopter ride to Gopalgarh, in Rajasthan, close to both Haryana and UP, where on September 14, the police, in collusion with local Gujjars, fired and killed nine Muslims (of the Meo community) in a mosque. Muslim anger spilling over into UP would be disastrous for the Congress 2012 campaign.

The post mortem report, conducted in Sawai Man Singh hospital, Jaipur, has confirmed three deaths by “bullets” and three were burnt alive. The remaining three died of injuries from sharp weapons. Officially, seven are missing and twenty-three injured. The unofficial figure of the injured is in excess of fifty.

Of the nineteen policemen at Gopalgarh police station, nine were Gujjars. In the entire Meo belt, beginning from Nuh on the Delhi-Alwar highway, and spreading across Rajasthan, Haryana and UP, there is a large presence of Gujjars in the police force and none of Meo Muslims, much the larger community.

The number of dead does not tell the story of Meo helplessness which becomes apparent at every turn on a two and a half hour drive from New Delhi past Nuh, Pahari and Gopalgarh. The logistics being so convenient for all the channels headquartered in New Delhi, the blackout of the story is inexplicable. Salman Rushdie once made an observation about European (media too) attitude towards the Bosnian carnage: “You reverse the religious affiliations of those brutalized and NATO would have moved in immediately.” Put it down to my cowardice that I hesitate to make that point about our media’s attitude to Gopalgarh. But it is tragic that, except for the Indian Express, I saw no other media in an area known for its unique culture and where almost everybody is aching to tell a sad story.

The great historian and author of the History of the People of Hindustan, the late Dr. K.M. Ashraf was a Meo. The Meo community was, until a few years ago, a unique blend of Islamic faith and Hindu culture – rather like Indonesia, where the practice of Islam has no conflictual equation with the local culture which derives from Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Ramzan Chaudhry, a lawyer, remembers his grandmother wearing the Rajput “Lehnga” and organizing Govardhan Puja without prejudice to namaz each day.

Successive administrations treated Meos with neglect. This gave an opening to the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tablighi-Jamaat to step in, “refine” the faith and dilute the colourful culture.

Three kms from Gopalgarh is the large Meel ka Madrasa, where 2,000 boys and girls live in a series of gigantic courtyards ringed by verandahs and tidy rooms like major universities anywhere. “What job will you get once you pass out from the Madrasa?” I ask 15 year old Jamal.

“A moulvi” (priest) he responds with pride. A moulvi in the kind of Mosque where the police and Gujjars opened fire?

It is uncharitable and wrong to link Madrasas with militancy. But what is frightening is this large turnover of unemployable “moulvis”.

Even though the Meos are much the largest population in the area, Gujjars are more self assured after their recent publicized agitation for reservations. They also feel more muscular because of the support they have from the police.

The scene of the violence is a set of three properties – a mosque, two acre enclosure for special Eid prayers and a few acres of disputed land which the Muslims use as their graveyard. On this some Gujjars have encroached.

It is at this point that communal politics gets mixed up with a land dispute. On September 13 Gujjars beats up the moulvi of the mosque precisely to raise tensions. Gopalgarh is tense. On September 14, RSS, VHP and Gujjar leaders mob the Superintendent of Police and Collector and forcibly obtain orders for the police to fire on Meos seeking shelter in the mosque.

At this stage, politics takes over. Rajasthan’s Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has 96 seats in a House of 200. He makes up the deficit with the help of BSP MLAs from the Meena tribe with whom Meos have “ties of blood” and Gujjars have traditional antipathies. Meos and Meenas have the same sub castes and “gotras”. So, Gehlot suspends the collector and SP and removes all the Gujjars from Gopalgarh police station. He announces a judicial and CBI inquiry plus a compensation of Rs. Five Lakh for relatives of those killed.

Four bodies are quietly buried, after relatives accept five lakh cheques. But Kirorilal Meena, who has emerged as the leader of the Meos, raises the compensation demand to Rs.25 lakh and a plot of land for a memorial to the dead plus resignation of Rajasthan Home Minister, Shanti Dhariwal who has been tepid on the Gopalgarh tragedy. Gehlot cannot annoy the Meenas, who are the front for Meos, because his survival in Jaipur depends on them. He is helpless on Dhariwal whose hold on the “Hindu” vote is priceless. So he is in a bind.

Like every other group, Meos too have created their tiny dynasties. Zahida Begum, Congress MLA from Kama in Rajasthan, is under pressure from Gehlot to use her influence and end the Gopalgarh story before New Delhi tweaks the Chief Minister’s ears. If she succeeds she will become Minister. Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Haryana Chief Minister, is pressing his Meo MLA Aftab Ahmad to stop Muslim anger from spilling over into his state. Aftab and Zahida are political enemies but are together in limiting the “Gopalgarh-effect” for their own reasons. Zahida’s brother, Fazal may be given an assembly ticket in Haryana if she can join forces with her political enemy Aftab Ahmad to help Hooda. But everyone is at this moment being neutralized by Kirorilal Meena, the most influential leader of the Meos. Congress, which has lost the habit of doing its homework, probably does not know that Kirorilal Meena, the most popular leader of the Muslim Meos was once a BJP MP and has just returned from Ahmedabad after attending Narendra Modi’s sadbhavna fast!

At his instance, the burials may be delayed, the charge sheets against the local administration be more comprehensive. Should tensions linger and travel to UP, Chidambaram will be asked questions. Should he travel to Gopalgarh? If he does not visit, Digvijay Singh may.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Credibility Deficit In The Western Media

Credibility Deficit In The Western Media
Saeed Naqvi

The story could not have been summed up more succinctly: the photograph shows David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli holding aloft the hand of a Libyan leader they would like to promote. Below, the headline across three columns – “Islamists Rise in New Libya”. This was refreshingly honest.

The world Information order, like much else, was shaped when India was a colony. It is a matter of astonishment how the Indian elite allowed itself to be a passive recipient of images beamed at it by the western media and, in foreign coverage, its Indian transmitters.

I had lodged the issue in some deep recess of my mind and allowed it to freeze until the so called Arab Spring impelled me to the region. Here I was again, the lonesome Indian journalist, in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Bahrain, the oil bearing eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Later, in Damascus, Homs, Hama in Syria just as I had been to Sana’a, in Yemen and Tripoli before all hell broke loose. I list these news spots only to make a point: unless you have your media there, in the midst of the story, how would you ever know the lengths to which the Western media can go, when it rallies behind a national agenda, to dissemble and purposefully shape your mind? Even the coincidence of that telling photograph and the contradictory headline would require decoding unless you have followed the drift of the from a consistent source.

On my return from Damascus, when I suggested to a senior leader that an Indian delegation should visit important countries in what is virtually India’s “near abroad”, he looked at me like I was pushing him into the line of fire.

“You are not suggesting that we go to Hama, are you?” he asked weakly.

Hama causes raised eyebrows because of the harshness with which Hafez al Assad suppressed an Islamist uprising in 1982. But all recent reports of protests being put down by tanks and rockets are concoctions, in most instances, as a group of six Indian journalists recently found out. Damascus seemed more at peace than New Delhi is before or after the recent High Court blast. Yes there was tension in Hama, a certain restiveness, nasty graffiti painted over in black. But no trace of a “massacre”.

The negative images on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels are being flashed by the Islamic rebels who have been equipped with technology provided by the US keen to weaken Syria’s links with Iran and Hezbollah.

James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times say:
“The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”

“The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cell phone networks inside foreign countries, as well one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase” – all part of what is being called “Liberation technology movement”.

The suitcase can be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

“The state Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya.”

In this Information war, on whose side are we? In the absence of our own sources of information, these are the traps we can walk into. If BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were to provide free service to Indian channels, do you think are great “independent” media will be able to resist the bait?

When the Anglo-French plot on Libya was first hatched, I wrote in these spaces that folks in Benghazi luring Europe are the very same who started 2006 uprising against the Danish cartoons. The sole voice was drowned out by the drumbeat of “revolution”. And now, after six months of relentless NATO bombing and Special Forces operating away from the cameras (these were focused on t-shirt and jean wearing youth brandishing AK 47s on pick up vans), Qaddaffi remains elusive and a wave of something resembling Salafism is already discernible. H.D.S. Greenway, in a superb piece, says: “Libyans will remember Qaddaffi differently in the chaos that is coming.”

Let us, then, move on to Baghdad – a shattering experience. I visited my favourite “mazgouf” joint which means fish from the Tigris grilled on open fire on the riverbank. It looked exactly what it was: a bombed hut. The fish is no longer from the Tigris but a nearby lake. A macabre incident ended that culture of eating. Human body parts were found in the stomach of the fish which, having lived for thousands of years on live bait, had become scavenger because of bodies floating down the river since the invasion.

Yes, we need our own reporters in every part of the globe otherwise the world will pass us by. Events will take place outside our ken.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Win In Libya And Lose The Arab Spring

Win In Libya And Lose The Arab Spring
Saeed Naqvi

In the decade since 9/11, has the West’s rift with the Muslim world widened? There was a window of opportunity to compose the rift when the Arab Spring ushered in a secular mass mobilization in Tunis and more decisively in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

Secular Muslim youth, Coptic Christians, a toned down Muslim Brotherhood, were all there, seeking change. Not once did one hear slogans against Israel or the United States. This was true of the fervent in all the countries this journalist visited – Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria even Qatif and Dahran, the oil bearing region of Saudi Arabia. But monarchies, sheikhdoms, dictatorships looked at each other in a state of funk because the people were out on the streets.

A handful of American columnists are being shortsighted in owning upto the mess that is being left behind by Britain and France in Libya. The United States was not interested in getting involved in a third Muslim country, the other two being Iraq and Afghanistan. How it was blackmailed into acquiescence in the name of saving NATO is another story.

Now, ofcourse, US diplomat and Arabist, Jeff Feltman has appeared in Benghazi just in case the scrambling Europeans forget their premier Atlantic partner.

How would the Muslim world have taken the six month long televised marathon in Libya? Also, there are 20 million Muslims in Europe. How would they react? Here is yet another occasion where one image evokes diametrically opposed responses between the West and the rest, particularly Muslims. In Europe, the responses would range from Anders Breivik’s in Oslo to the Muslim fringe, in a heightened state of agitation, after Libya. A glass, full of promise, has been spilt. Can an attempt be made to rescue some goodwill in the run upto the UN General Assembly vote on Palestine later this month?

A pity the Spring ushered in by Arab youth has been willfully wasted by the West. Indeed, the shaken monarchies and the remaining dictatorships have rallied around the US and Europe to protect themselves.

While some of the western diplomats have been selling the lemon that Libyan oil was not the reason for the invasion, facts on the ground suggest oil, water, Libya’s links with resource rich Africa are the prime reasons for European interest in the country whose leader, Qaddaffi, was their friend until the other day.

I was reading an autobiography which touches on the King of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah’s exile from Lucknow in 1856, an event which triggered the great uprising of 1857. That was classical regime change, one of the many that colonialism engineered. The metropolitan centers of control in Europe have not shed habits picked up in the 19th century. Indian statecraft probably has its own logic, what I find disgraceful is the deafening silence in India’s intellectual corridors.

Western media, which in the past threw up its hands in horror at the very mention of Muslim Brotherhood, is suddenly so accommodative of the Brothers that the Economist is editorially advising whoever would care to listen that all Muslims are not ogres provided they play by democratic rules.

This is true, but this line is being devised to justify the overthrow (almost) of possibly the most secular dictator in the region other than the two Baa’th regimes in Syria and Iraq. As someone who visited Tripoli after President Reagan bombed the country on “suspicions” of terrorism and more recently, I can say with authority that it was the only society in the region free of the Mullah. The most educated person in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. The country boasted of the world’s first military academy for women. Indeed, Qaddaffi’s two bodyguards were women. Difficult to believe that he “murdered” his own people as Alain Juppe and David Cameron have repeatedly alleged?

If he was such a tyrant, how do we explain cosy deals between British and French Intelligence agencies and Tripoli? When the dust settles all lies will stand exposed. In the meanwhile do not give credence to the well informed businessman from Tripoli who insists that in the melee, Qaddaffi placed his bets on both sides. In other words, watch the man being brought into focus as Libya’s interim leader: keep a steady gaze on his eye which he might wink in warm recognition whenever he sees Qaddaffi or his minions at a moment opportune for both.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Media For TRPs And Prasar Bharati For Murdoch?

Media For TRPs And Prasar Bharati For Murdoch?
Saeed Naqvi

One may have to turn to major advertisers to find out what slots are being booked beyond September 16 when the India – England ODI series ends. Because that is when the political season will open up for the UP assembly elections, and for which the channels are already smacking their lips.

It is at that stage that the marketing whiz-kids have to take a call whether to invite Anna Hazare for a sojourn at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground or, for variety, transport fifty or more cameras to Ralegaon Siddhi itself. Crowd mobilization in a remote area may not be insurmountable because crowd amplification is an elementary media trick.

It was by this trick that the Dick Cheney pulled wool over the world’s eyes by putting out a complete fabrication that Saddam Hussain’s statue had been pulled down on April 9, 2003 by Iraqi crowds celebrating victory. Nothing of the sort happened. Some workers from Baghdad’s Palestine hotel and a handful of bystanders saw US marines place a hook around the neck of the statue and an armoured personal carrier pull the rope to leave Saddam hanging at an awkward tilt, gifting the world with an iconic image of American triumph.

Poor Rageh Omaar, the BBC’s correspondent, received instructions from headquarters to provide commentary suitable for a great victory. So, he went on and on: O’ my god, this is unbelievable, the crowds are coming from this side and that. The fact of the matter was that the crowds did not come, only Omaar did.

In between the contrived frames of the statue falling, were snatches from Dick Cheney’s “victory” speech in which he thanked “religious” leaders for having made the occasion possible. Who were the “religious leaders” being thanked and why? Shia clerics Baqar al Hakim and Muqtada Sar had been contacted to send out Shia crowds to celebrate. Yes, that is when Tom Friedman, who thought Iraq was the greatest liberalizing project ever undertaken, recommended a Noble Prize for Ayatullah Sistani. The story bears repetition because it is on mass amnesia that the contemporary global media feeds as I know too well from recent travels through most of the Arab world in the grip of violent change. It quite beats me how the western media has heaped so much shame on itself by telling lies that would make ones hair stand – in Libya and Syria. Joseph Stiglitz, the American Nobel laureate is right. Bin Laden wished to hurt America, but the manner in which the US has proceeded to hurt itself by dismantling its institutions, of which a credible media is part, is quite dismaying. And we, in India, give currency to columnists who, at their lowest, spew racism. “The West must at times be prepared to fight for its values against barbarism.” Really? When did Martin Luther King lead the Civil Rights movement? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, a million civilians killed in Iraq. And our obsequious media publishes columnists justifying military action on Arab people to end “barbarism?”

But let me not mix up print with electronic media. These have been good days for TRPs eversince the Cricket World Cup began earlier in the year, leading upto a dream climax in the semi final in Mohali, garnished with an Indo-Pak summit, and then the final of finals when India became the world’s number one team.

It was not that the marketing managers had taken their eyes off life after the world cup. Here was the worlds number one team (it had just won in the West Indies too) headed for England. It was mind boggling the bonanza that loomed on the horizon. Unfortunately, team India flopped in England.

But by the time the last test match ended at the Oval on August 22, channels were busy reheating the Anna project.

In a fast paced novel or movie P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Swami Ramdev, Anna Hazare and the media, would all be found to be batting on the same side, heightening dramatic effect from their own vantage points in geometrical progression, filling the media’s coffers with mysterious altruism.

Barely two days before a dismal test series ended, Anna was reinstated at Ramlila ground. The 24X7 media had never had it so good. Anchors mobilized superior pundits to analyze every inflection of Anna and his cohorts. For ten days, without a break, morning, evening, afternoon, all other news disappeared from the media.

And now as the country prepares for the UP and national election, the channels must keep their gaze on the main chance, the TRPs. In wars the western media becomes part of the war effort, batting for the country as it were. But whose purpose does the Indian media serve when it becomes part of the Anna campaign? We shall never know the answer to this question unless we know who owns the media and what are the foreign linkages.

When Rupert Murdoch was on the mat in Britain and the US his representative in India was doubling up as member of the Prasar Bharati Board! Really, what salvation when neither the state nor Anna know a jot about the media which ties them up in knots?

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is Damascus Burning?

Is Damascus Burning?
Saeed Naqvi

It was not easy to fit Syria into a pattern eversince Mohammed Bouazizi, Tunisian pavement seller, ignited Arab change by setting himself ablaze for being slapped by a policewoman on December 17, 2010.

The Arab world divided itself into three distinct theatres of change. First were the North African states, stretching from Morocco to Egypt, having a Mediterranean face but an African depth too. The turn of events in Egypt were tectonic.

The second theatre was Libya where Muammar Qaddafi, in a solo, walked through minefields inexpertly laid by the Anglo-French combine. This has now turned into a fox hunt – hounds, bugles et al.

The most violent theatre was in Saudi charge, a Shia arc around the realm – Yemen with its Zaidis and Huthis (Al Qaeda, too), Bahrain(80 percent Shia), Kuwait(30 percent), Iraq(65 percent), the last three converging on the Saudi oil fields in Dahran, Dammam, Qatif, all Shia dominated.

Damascus was more like pre occupation Baghdad. Saddam Hussain and Hafez al Assad were both secure as leaders of the iron-clad Ba’ath Socialist parties. Order was maintained by the army and party cadres.

But in Iraq Saddam, Army, party were all smashed by the US occupation, focused overwhelmingly on oil. Only a subsidiary interest was to insulate Israel’s east from an oil rich, efficient dictatorship. An unintended consequence was the emergence of Shia power around which the Saudis are now doing a vigorous war dance.

Syria was spared the American wrath because it had no oil and its border with Israel had been the most peaceful in the region. War drums around Damascus are a surprise because another Iraq is not possible. That would entail American invasion, not in the cards now. So Damascus has to be destabilized in other ways – by encouraging the Sunni majority against the Alawite dominated regime, for instance.

Why this focus on Damascus now? Have they found oil on a scale comparable with Iraq? It takes time to digest startling reality. Yes, oil and gas are in the bargain now, offshore, within the territorial waters of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, as much oil as there is in Saudi Arabia. Do a Google search and find Israel Energy Initiative. Familiar names like Dick Cheney, Murdoch, Rothschild swim into focus.

New Delhi clearly has a lively embassy in Damascus. Here, seated in President Bashar Assad’s palace, I find officials quickly process documents submitted by ONGC Videsh Ltd. to prospect in blocks claimed by Syria.

Some political facts to complete the picture. A Shia ring around Saudi Arabia gives Riyadh nightmares. A larger, strategic Shia arc (plus Hamas) is Israel’s nightmare. It is in this latter category that Syria fits in because Assad, his clan, the army, are all Alawites a secular variant of Shias. The majority is overwhelmingly Sunni. These sectarian divisions in the Syrian context are slightly misleading: Baa’th socialism nurtured a deeply secular society. Creeping anger inclined towards Sunni extremism is an import from neighbours after televised destruction of Iraq.

Ataturk’s Turkey and Ba’ath Syria had a durable, secular bond. But a more Islamic Turkey has been pressing Assad to give political space to the Muslim Brotherhood, while introducing reforms in Syria. For Assad, this would be the thin end of the wedge.

A more “sunni” Syria would remove the country from the Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas nexus and enhance Turkey’s influence way above Iran’s in the region. Also, Turkey is strategically placed to ensure fluent flow of fuel to Europe or elsewhere when the off shore oil is placed in pipelines.

In this scenario, US ambassador to Syria Robert Stephen Ford’s role is vital. John Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq, said of Ford, his deputy then: “he is one of those very tireless people…...who didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts”. Well, he is putting his genius to use driving to such trouble spots as Hama’a and Darr’a patting the rebels. Why Assad has not shown him the door probably reflects on the besieged President’s weakness, possible divisions in the highest leadership.

In this destabilization process the Iraqi insurgency next door also finds an outlet, relieving pressure on US troops planning departure from Baghdad.

The media, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, BBC, CNN, in that order are putting out stories which neither this journalist nor non Arab ambassadors have found to be true. In a drive to Homs, even Hama, the real trouble spot, I saw fewer pickets than on Indian roads. At the end of the day media’s reputation will be quite as battered as the region is. How are these bogus stories being flashed despite dictatorial censorship? The New York Times says that “the Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.” All for love of freedom?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Million Arab Lives, Small Price For Freedom

Million Arab Lives, Small Price For Freedom
Saeed Naqvi

Just in case you did not know, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad are victims of a media war, relentless, no holds barred.

I am making this observation with a degree of authority because I returned last week from Damascus, Ham’a, Homs and vast Syrian spaces in between in searing 45°. As for Libya, well, I have been there earlier.

Some months ago, when David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy were salivating at Libyan oil, the International Herald Tribune published a cartoon.

A group of hatted Europeans are sipping Campari under an umbrella. Uncle Sam, looking rather like a butler, says, “There is a fire raging next door”. The European grandees reply: “don’t just stand there; go put out the fire”.

Altruism is obviously at a discount when major fires, like the one in Libya, are to be put out. European leaders may be drooling at the sight of Libyan light crude, but all their representatives, flying in from Malta to Benghazi, have been trumped by the visit to Libyan opposition leaders by Jeff Feltman, US envoy and expert on Middle East. Americans are not likely to loosen their grip on Energy resources.

The ultimate compliment to Feltman came from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah after Israeli reversal in the 2006 Lebanon war. The government of Fouad Siniora, installed with American help was called the “Feltman Government” by Nasrallah. The label was adopted by Lebanese opposition groups.

The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Stephen Ford is no mean operator either. He has been travelling around the country with the audacity of a Special Forces stuntman in diplomatic guise. His visit to Ham'a, a Salafist center, along with the French Ambassador, in early Ramadan created conditions for some frightful rioting against the regime. The army retaliated, killing 75.

Just when the Bashar Assad establishment was seething with rage, last week Ford decided to poke his fingers in the regime’s eye by turning up in Darr’a, another trouble spot where the variety of Muslims in bad odour with the west are up in arms against Assad. But there is no ambiguity in Ford’s mission: he had gone to boost the morale of exactly the variety who, two months ago, had come out on the streets across the border in Jordan, brandishing their swords and demanding Shariah.

But has anyone seen that story? Ofcourse not, because stories about human rights in any monarchy in West Asia are taboo by edict of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on whose coffers an economically declining West has its eye. Only Republican dictatorships are in the line of fire. And towards this end the media has been deployed – BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabia, the last two represent the Monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) now in the coalition of the willing, (Israel is the silent partner) in a blistering media assault on Assad’s regime. Mission Libya, in their perception, is as good as accomplished.

After the Darr’a visit, the Syrian cabinet got into a huddle. Should the meddlesome US ambassador be shown the door? There were divisions in the highest leadership. Ford stays on. Assad knows his clout. When John Negroponte was US ambassador to Iraq, Ford was his deputy. The Pentagon confirmed to Newsweek in 2005, that the two masterminded “hit squads of Kurdish and Shia fighters to target leaders of the Iraqi insurgency”. Negroponte described Ford as “one of those very tireless people…..who, didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts”. And now his genius is being put to good use in Syria.

It is universally accepted that disinformation is part of warfare. But who is the Assad regime at war with? In imitation of the choreography in Libya, an impression is sought to be created that the Alawite dominated regime is brutalizing the majority Sunni population.

To amplify this image, totally fabricated stories are being flashed on Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, BBC and CNN. “I have seen with my own eyes,” says a lady hosting some Indian friends, “how arms are being smuggled from Turkey in my hometown, Aleppo, given to the rebels but the subsequent violence is being blamed on the regime”. The lady is a scarf wearing Sunni.

Non Arab ambassadors visited the coastal town of Latakia to verify reports of “heavy shelling from the sea”. Persistent questioning of a cross section of people revealed that no shelling had ever taken place.

Journalists on a tour of Ham’s were shown the police station from where seventeen people, including policemen, were pulled out, beheaded and their bodies thrown in the nearby river. However macabre the story, it gets no play because it is a narrative of the government which is in the west’s line of fire.

The story of “mass graves” in Darr’a makes headlines on BBC and CNN even though inquiries made by embassies reveal that the burial of five members of a family (intra family vendetta) had been exaggerated as “mass graves”, resulting from an army crackdown.

But how is the media circumventing censorship? The New York Times says that “the Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”

Really, what some people will not do for freedom. A million deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and heaven knows how many more to follow in Syria, and wherever else, is but small sacrifice to keep the flame of freedom burning eternally and all flames need fuel.

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