Monday, June 27, 2011

Will Obama Fall Between Stools?

Will Obama Fall Between Stools?
Saeed Naqvi

President Obama has tried to reconcile the irreconcilables – the requirements of his domestic audience and the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. It will take a while before we know whether he has fallen between stools.

After all 1,500 American lives lost and $450 billion spent in Afghanistan, will need to be explained in the run upto the US Presidential election in November 2012. As President Obama has said, some sort of a beginning will have been made when 10,000 troops begin to return home in the coming six months. The subsequent choreography is also geared towards 2012 election: in May of that year, six months prior to the election, “in Chicago we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition”.

Obama dwells at length on the “terrorist safe – havens in Pakistan”. And he leaves no one in any doubt that “so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve”. Notice, only those in Pakistani safe havens who “kill us” are the objects of the President’s ire.

In his speech delivered on December 1, 2009 at the Military Academy at West Point, Obama promised an induction of 30,000 additional troops. That surge did take place. So, on the induction of troops Obama was able to keep his word. But on the drawing down of troops? Let us wait and see.

President Hamid Karzai has grown in confidence which is largely because the American media, which takes its lead from the establishment on critical issues, no longer calls him “the Mayor of Kabul”. But is there evidence that his popularity is growing, even in arithmetical progression, in such a way that he will be able to survive in Kabul after 2014, the deadline Obama indicates for the final withdrawal? Surely, between now and 2014, another script will be written, most certainly after the results of 2012 election is known.

US diplomats in Islamabad were pretty frank in 2008 – 2009. “It will take atleast 10 years to train the Frontiers Guard.” Clearly all this training was focused on Afghanistan. A more straightforward statement was: “We are here for the long haul”.

This “long haul” becomes quite transparent when you travel in Afghanistan. The huge block which passes for the US embassy in Kabul, with 700 hands, is being doubled. In Mazar-e-Sharif the US Consulate under construction would dwarf large embassies elsewhere. Not quite the looks of folk saddling up to leave!

The current “talk-to-the-Taleban” incantation also resonates differently with ethnic groups and regions. The Rais or the Chief Priest of Mazar-e-Sharif, Atiq Ullah Ansari, abruptly ends his conversation on mystic elements in Hindustani classical music at the very mention of Taleban. Mention Serajuddin Haqqani, Taleban leader in Pakistan, to Hamid Karzai, and he sees red.

Pakistanis insist on inserting themselves as interlocutors with the Taleban, something the entire spectrum of opinion in Afghanistan firmly resists, the Afghan Talebans most of all.

“Talk-to-Taleban” has another dangerous dimension. During my stay in Kabul a riot broke out between the “Hazaras”, a Shia sect and nomadic Pushtoons called Koochis. Where would the Koochis turn for protection – Hamid Karzai or the Taleban who are being projected as the future rulers?

All Taleban are Pushtoons. Further, Pushtoon is synonymous with “Afghan”. Herein lies another potential for future conflict. Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmans constitute 60 percent of the population. Consider the complications.

For instance, any talk of regional conference to address the Afghan problem is anathema to the Taleban (Pushtoon) because Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will never accept Pushtoon dominance. Also, Pushtoon dominance conceptually opens up a cross border Pushtoon link up which is neither totally under the control of Kabul nor of Islamabad.

And yet it need not be a tidy tie up. King Amanullah, greatly influenced by Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk’s strategy of submerging all ethnicities under the over arching Turkish identity, tried to knit a Pushtoon nation by transferring Pushtoons to regions dominated by other identities. Likewise, minorities were transferred to Pushtoon dominated areas. Pushtoons coming on top can lead to retaliation against them in the regions. Ethnic cleansing and civil war could follow.

There is yet another complication. The Saur (April) revolution of 1978 ousted Daud Khan, and paved the way for Noor Mohammad Taraki and other Khalq and Parcham, Communist parties of Afghanistan to come to power. Outsiders do not notice that history was made in a sense that seers Afghan memory. Daud was the last in the chain of Durranis, the ruling class from among the Pushtoons, who ruled Afghanistan without a break for 200 years. Taraki, who broke this chain, was from another line of Pushtoons called Ghilzais. The Talebans, including, Mullah Omar, are Ghilzais. The Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, proposed a “provisional” government under Karzai, who is a Populzai, from the Durrani line. He was imposed, in a manner of speaking.

Will the Taleban (Pushtoons) of their own free will, settle under a Durrani?

These are just some of the complications. And I haven’t dwelt on Pakistan yet.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ramdev, Hazare and JP Movements

Ramdev, Hazare and JP Movements
Saeed Naqvi

Are there traces of the 1974 JP movement in the anti corruption show mounted by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare?

First, the backdrop. In 1969, Indira Gandhi split the Congress to sideline the regional leaders like Atulya Ghosh, C.B. Gupta and a host of others more to the right of Indira Gandhi’s pronounced socialism at that stage. Congress split was accompanied by nationalization of banks and stopping of Privy Purses of Princes.

To keep the Congress buoyant in Parliament, Indira Gandhi fell back on Left support. One of her cabinet colleagues, Mohan Kumarmanagalam and CPI leader S.A. Dange devised a formulation – unite and struggle. In other words, the left would “unite” with the Congress’ “pro peoples” policies like the nationalization of banks and “struggle” against its “anti Peoples” stand.

This leftward lurch of the Congress coincided, more or less with the Tet offensive bringing the US closer to its sad conclusion in Vietnam. This was also the period of anti Vietnam restiveness among the Youth – Kent state university, Grovesnor square, London, the barricades in Paris. In the early 70’s in India too, youth anger, on another issue, erupted as the Nav Nirman Samiti agitation in Gujarat.

Then came the Bihar movement.

After the Bangladesh operations in 1971, Indira Gandhi was “Goddess Durga”, invincible. To beat Indira Gandhi’s charisma, another charismatic persona had to be placed on a pedestal. In those days Socialist, Gandhian Jaya Prakash Narayan had retired into Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s “Bhoodan”, a voluntary land distribution movement. Also he made for a rather lonesome seminarist in New Delhi.

Crafty minds got together, notably Ramnath Goenka, powerful newspaper magnate, and his friend, the senior RSS leader, Nanaji Deshmukh. Later, Managing Director of the Statesman, C.R. Irani also joined as Goenka’s sidekick.

JP’s house in Kadam Kuan in Patna, became the headquarters of a movement with various names – JP movement, Bihar Movement, total revolution, anti corruption movement. For its target, the revolution chose a rather innocuous, without any history of corruption, Abdul Ghafoor, the Congress Chief Minister.

The global, national situations were reflected in Bihar as well. When Indian Communists split into CPI and CPM, the CPI in Bihar remained intact, making it a powerful block in the state assembly.

To defeat Indira Gandhi and her Left affiliates, in the guise of fighting corruption, a coalition was forged in which JP was a “Mukhauta” or mask, and the organizer was Nanaji Deshmukh who mobilized Akhil Bharatiya Viyarthi Parishad and RSS cadres as the primary foot soldiers. Socialists, Swatantra supporters, Congress(O), the right wing of the Congress discarded by Indira Gandhi in the 1969 split, sedentary, wheel spinning Gandhians–all joined to mount “total revolution” built up by the Indian Express and The Statesman. After the Railway strike led by George Fernandez, an atmosphere of anarchy was created which caused an unnerved Indira Gandhi to declare a state of Emergency in 1975. Yes, it was only after Allahabad high court disqualified Indira Gandhi on technical grounds from membership of parliament that emergency was declared. She lost the 1977 General Elections. Morarji Desai led the Janata Government as Prime Minister in which Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani became Foreign and Information Ministers respectively. The project promoted by Ramnath Goenka and Nanaji Deshmukh, among others, in response to Indira Gandhi’s 1969 congress split and leftward swing, had borne fruit. It is another matter that India’s first non-congress coalition collapsed in 1980 and Indira Gandhi bounced back.

Compare the situation today.

There is no Left surge, rather Left decline in India unless we begin to regard Maoism-Leninism with more seriousness. In the 70s, the US was under pressure - d├ętente was working against it. This time, there is an overall dissipation of western power. In other words there is a global constant linking JP movement to the present – western decline. It was true then, it is true now. Worry of worries, China has risen.

In those days, the infection of youth anger in the west spread to India and it were the youth who manned the JP movement.

Corruption in 1970’s was built up as an issue to be placed at the service of politics. Today it dwarfs all other issues. Shockingly, ruling UPA partners, the DMK has produced record breakers in corruption. Cabinet Ministers are in jail on that count without the UPA having the courage to part company with the DMK. Abjectly subservient to morality is power at all costs. And now Jayalalita has taken a direct shot at the Union Home Minister’s credibility.

The infection of youth anger in the west spread to India and it were the youth who manned the JP movement.

Again it is the “youth bulge” which has dramatically altered the political landscape in North Africa and West Asia. The idea has been transmitted by the media.

JP’s strong point was his innings in public life and, ultimately, his “tyag”, renunciation, willingness to work outside public glare. The Indian mind reveres renunciation.

Anna Hazare is also on the renunciation path, having stepped out of Gandhian stables, but doesn’t quite measure up-to JP’s stature.

Baba Ramdev is better known but more for his yoga feats. Renunciation is not quite his forte. He is a millionaire. His saffron image has also been compromised when he donned a white salwar-kurta and covered his face in a white chunni to escape the police. In this he followed in every detail the principal mullah who tried to escape wearing a burqa from Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007.

It was Indira Gandhi’s charisma that JP was set up to challenge. Whose charisma were the Hazare-Ramdev duet expected to challenge? Sonia Gandhi is not invincible; she is irreplaceable as Congress President. In that position her future is secure either as leader of the ruling party or leader of opposition. Jayalalita and Mamta Bannerjee have charismatic potential but within their states. The person on whom most eyes are riveted is Mayawati because her durability in UP blocks alternative game plans from 2012 to 2014. That is where all political interests would like to derive mileage from the current anti corruption campaigners, provided Ramdev does not sully his saffron and is found escaping, this time in a burqa!

In brief, JP movement was to replace a left lurching Indira Gandhi. Hazare-Ramdev ball is being tossed up for political parties to smash it on a deft and durable Mayawati. Also, remember, all puritanical movements will be eventually exploited by exactly the right wing groups who rallied around JP.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Hussain: Death Of An Exile

Hussain: Death Of An Exile
Saeed Naqvi

Maara dayar e ghair mein mujhko watan se door
Rakh li mere khuda ne meri bekasi ki sharm!
“Mirza Ghalib”
(I breathed my last in alien lands,
My god protected me from disgrace at home)

There are no instruments to gauge the pain Maqbool Fida Hussaid must have experienced in abandoning for good the country he strode, barefoot (he was averse to wearing footwear) like a colossus among artists. But pained he was. This was clear from the manner in which he avoided conversation on his exile.

I knew him since the 60s but never well enough which remains one of my regrets. In those days, Sapru House was New Delhi’s only rendezvous. Standing applause for a superb rendering of Tilak Kamod by Vilayat Khan accompanied brilliantly by Shamta Prasad on the tabla had barely subsided when a bearded man, tall and very upright, walked up the side staircase to embrace a cross-legged Sitar Maestro. It made for an awkward arch, leaning across Shanta Prasad. It was then I noticed that Hussain, wore no footwear. It was the image of a barefoot artist which remained etched in my mind as a sort of motif for Hussain. This eccentricity of his occasionally created problems, as in the instance when a Mumbai club asked him to leave for being inadequately dressed.

In my impressionable 20s, I found his iconic figure compelling except for a slight squeamishness I experienced when I saw him walk past the filth of Jama Masjid’s fish and chicken market, greeted by senior Imam Bukhari, in his booming voice and by Delhi Congress Chief, Mir Mustaq Ahmad, drunk as a sailor, leaning from the balcony of his house, just above the paan shop at the corner of the street that leads to Karim’s: “Jootey pahen lo, mian, sardi hai” (wear shoes, dear man, it’s cold), he would yell. Hussain, never a great one for quips or repartees, would mumble a greeting and walk the grimy path leading to Naaz hotel where he lived. This was much before his paintings began to sell for millions. From Naaz he graduated to the Taj.

One of life’s unwholesome realizations is the invasion of personal jealousies in the world of art. It is a long list. They even pitted Zauq as Ghalib’s equal simply because he (Zauq) was the Mughul Emperoro’s “ustad”. History is replete with Mozart-Salieri sequences.

Hussain always towered above his peers in every sense of the term. Being particularly deficient in appreciating painting and sculpture, I am hesitant to compare his works with those of his contemporaries. But in his earlier phase, I found his horses compelling because I saw them as “Ablaq” or “Surang”, the Arab steed Mir Anis sketched in his “Musaddas” or “sestet”, the style of epics in which Marsias were written, describing every detail of the battle of Karbala, including the horses of Imam Hussain and his brother, Abbas. He liked the comparison.

Hussain enjoyed these recitations. He had a sense of poetry but of a lighter, less complex variety. This made for a kind of balance: he knew just a little more about poetry than I did of painting.
He dismissed with a shrug my simple thesis that muslims, even from culturally emancipated backgrounds, knew little about painting or sculpture because of the Islamic taboo on visual representations of reality as the thin end of the wedge towards idolatory. Hussain was not the world’s most articulate man, but in his grunts and mumbles, interspersed with a jab of his elbow in your ribs to seek appreciation for the mischievous point he had made, he would say: “yeh bakwas hai”, or “This is non-sense”. He thought I was imposing my Lucknow parochialism on a vastly varied country.

After all, many of his contemporaries like Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee and Sadeqain, were all from muslim backgrounds. In fact Raza never stops talking about the “high class” Brahmins who influenced him, his tantric interests, his preoccupation with the “bindu” or the dot.

Indeed, Hussain himself had painted Bharat Mata in the 70s. He painted Indira Gandhi as Durga after Bangladesh. His Mother Theresa series is steeped in universal devotion. After a poetry session, Pavan Varma had organized at London’s Nehru Centre, he asked for a line that would describe Madhuri Dixit. Here was a sweet adolescence resident in a man in his late 80s.

That devotional painting of Bharat Mata and goddesses were, in the highest Hindu tradition, painted with pure intent which later political mischief makers distorted as irreverent nudity. Hussain was pained not so much by the lumpen demonstration as by the silence of the majority and its elite.

The intolerant streak evident from Salman Rushdie to Lelyveld’s Gandhi had never really been met headon by the elite which showed itself as cowering and bogus once again in the Bhandarkar institute case.

And the media, which builds up a national movement around a boy in a well or Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev – where was it when Hussain was being hounded? During the Gujarat riots, mobs razed to the ground the grave of Wali Dakkhini, just outside Ahemadabad’s main police station. One of Wali’s poems says:
“kooch a e yaar ain Kashi hai,
Jogia dil wahan ka baasi hai.”

(The street where my beloved lives is like the holy city of Varanasi. And the yogi of my heart has made his house there!)

Where is the movement to restore the grave, indeed, build a tomb right there?

Hussain, who lived his life on an epic scale, was pained by his own exile, but he never allowed himself to be cast in a tragic mould.

“In life’s tavern, they sat frozen, holding their cups.
I came, drank, spilt and left.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Arab Springs Global Linkages

Arab Springs Global Linkages

Saeed Naqvi

A high profile event extended over a period of time, like the one that goes under the short hand “Arab Spring”, shelters so many other episodes with a global potential, happening even as I write. Take the arrest and possible deportation to the International Court at the Hague of Ratkin Mladic, responsible for the Srebenica massacre in 1995, when the Bosnian war was coming to a close.

Like Osama bin Laden, Mladic was clearly helped in escaping arrest so far. Pressure on Belgrade to deliver him for justice was immense because non compliance was blocking Serbia’s entry into EU. This is not a simple matter. Serbia’s EU entry will open other sensitive issues – Turkey’s entry for instance. This, Europe will resist, although it may find itself deflated on the issue because Turkish desire for an economically depleted Europe is now somewhat tepid.

But Belgrade, having delivered Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadic and Mladic to the Hague, has a strong political case for entry. Also, Belgrade has swallowed the bitter pill in acquiescing in Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. In the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina is the monument to the battle of Kosovo, where, in 1389, the Serbs gave stiff resistance to Turkish troops, blocking their advance into Europe. Some of Serbia’s most sacred monasteries and shrines are in Kosovo. That is why Turkey’s instant recognition of Kosovo was so galling for Serbia.

This is precisely the reason why Orthodox Christian nations like Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria have not recognized Kosovo. Spain’s non recognition is for another reason: Madrid feels secessionism in the Basque region would derive strength from the recognition of Kosovo.

Some such reason was behind New Delhi’s polite “no” to the US request. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia, the arch Muslim country, was disinterested in the emergence of a Muslim entity. The Saudi resistance to the idea is the one that determines its many foreign policy moves. The Saudis will never accept a principle of secession which can be applied to their Shia dominated Eastern Province where all of their oil is located.

It is for this reason that the Saudis are a major force behind the project of eliminating Qadaffi from Libya, by death, because his survival leaves a Libya partitioned into an oil rich eastern half and the rest. Considering that borders have already been altered in Sudan leaves the Saudis uncomfortable.

Their anxieties on their score approach paranoia both, in Iraq and Yemen. Iraq is defacto Kurdish, Sunni and Shia regions and Yemen is clearly headed towards a north-south partition.

The end of the cold war world engaged western intellectuals in shaping a new world order. While Francis Fukiyama and Samuel Huntington concerned themselves with the “end of history” and “clash of civilizations” respectively there were others, like Morton Halperin, who studied Self Determination and US Intervention.

Halperin and his colleague in the Clinton Administration, David Scheffer and scholar Patricia Small in 1992 wrote a book: “self determination in the new world order.” The book justifies US intervention in support of self determination.

Halperin became director policy planning under Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State. Halperin invited former editor of foreign policy and professor of international relations at Princeton, Richard Ullman, to set up a group of scholars at the state department to study a “History of Kosovo” to spin a theory for a “Just War.”

This background is useful for a study of ethics in the current Libyan operations.

In her book, “The Mighty and the Almighty,” Albright refers to Mark Twain’s harrowing War Prayer. “Even to pray for victory in war is tantamount to asking that horrors be visited upon the innocent of the opposite side.”

She anguishes over Milosevic, his three wars against Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and his “final solution” for the Albanians of Kosovo. She spells out her dilemma: “since Kosovo was part of Serbia, Milosevic’s crimes could not be characterized as international aggression. No member of NATO was under attack, so the Alliance could not claim the right of self defence. Serbia had not threatened to invade another country so there was no rationale for preemptive strike.”

Albright concluded that there were those “vulnerable other” to be defended. NATO’s presence in Europe gave her the means.

Bush years were, of course, guided by more crude principles. But consider military action against Qadaffi’s Libya keeping Albright’s perspective in mind.

For good or bad, Qaddaffi’s is a secular regime which the group in Benghazi may not be. Britain and France, not the US, have rushed to recognize the group in Benghazi whose Salafist Links are known.

The UN resolution was to impose a no-fly zone to protect the people of Libya. Instead western intervention has resulted in the death of Qaddaffi’s son and three grandchildren in addition to hundreds of innocent Libyans.

How does this monstrous outcome square with UNSG resolution 1973 or, in an earlier regime in Washington, with Albright’s sober deliberations?

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Even On Slippery Slope, An Ace Up Pak Sleeve

Even On Slippery Slope, An Ace Up Pak Sleeve
Saeed Naqvi

The elimination of Osama bin Laden in the military cantonment town of Abbotabad on May 2 and, within three weeks, on May 23, the 17 hour siege of Pakistan’s major Naval-Air base in Karachi have heaped humiliation on the Pakistan Army and the ISI.

Do these unfortunate experiences chasten the Army or does Gen. Pervez Kayani still fall back on the expedience: “Ours is an India centered army?”

The Abbotabad operation remains a mystery. There is a body of observers, in Pakistan as elsewhere, which is convinced that the Army, or at least a section of it, collaborated in Osama’s capture. It is simply not possible for a fugitive to find a comfortable hideout in the shadow of Pakistan’s premier military academy.

If the Army denies knowledge, it is incompetent. If it accepts participation it invites a storm by way of “revenge” from the Pakistan Taleban.

The basic suspicion remains: elements in the Pak army or its affiliates, retired officers, were in cahoots with the Americans.

The siege of the Naval base in Karachi leads to an even more frightening conclusion. The base was attacked without outsiders having been noticed at the countless checkpoints required at a military facility. Does it not prove without a shadow of a doubt that it was an inside job?

If both Abbotabad and Karachi are “inside” jobs, the narrative becomes frighteningly confused. In Abbotabad the collaboration was with the Americans to get Osama. In Karachi the operation is avowedly to Avenge Osama’s death.

The charitable conclusion is that the left hand of the army does not know what the right is doing. A more sinister line to pursue is to look for fissures in the army on the issue of Jihad.

There was a nasty little theory doing the rounds: it was called the “one percent solution”. The implication is that if one percent of say 9.5 lakh of the army, Navy and Air Force is infected with Jehadism, then the siege of the Naval base or the attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi in October 2009 are spontaneous eruptions linked to a secret society which grows in direct proportion to rampaging anti Americanism. It is quite a frightening scenario for the region and beyond, particularly when such anarchy grips a country strapped to unclear weapons.

How does one calm a Pakistani establishment on sixes and sevens? Consider the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Kabul. It cannot be anybody’s case in Pakistan, even those obsessed with strategic depth, that an Indian Prime Minister must never visit Kabul because otherwise the Pak army will be in a heightened state of agitation.

The Prime Minister promised to continue development assistance and much else. So far so good. Tucked away in the joint declaration is a mention of Afghanistan’s “security” concerns. Immediately comes a riposte from a Pakistani journalist I know too well. “Why must you poke your nose in Afghan security?

This is paranoia, but let it pass. Let us, for the sake of argument, give Gen. Hamid Gul his favoured turf – Afghanistan. In preparation for this transfer of influence, I suggest Pakistan’s Geo TV (or any other channel) to organize a discussion between Hamid Gul and former Taleban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salaam Zaeef, follower and friend of Mullah Omar, who spent four years in Guantanamo Bay. What he told me some months ago in Kabul is what he will tell Hamid Gul. “Pakistan simply has no role in Afghanistan.” Why this anger with Pakistan?

“For four years I was in Guantanamo where human rights violations are not as bad as they are in Pakistan: for seven years our boys languished in Pakistan prisons without trial.”

Well, assuming Zaeef is a spent force, let us consider Serajuddin Haqqani as a Pakistani asset among the Taleban. President Hamid Karzai will thump the table hard. “Haqqani is the worst of the lot” he will exclaim.

Quite ironically, the day Pakistan was in convulsions over the seventeen hour siege of its important Naval base in Karachi, businessmen, including some Indians, were being flown by the government in Kabul to far flung parts of Herat in search of business, trade, joint ventures.

This is not to suggest that peace has enveloped Afghanistan. But it does confirm the other reality: the Af-Pak conflict’s center of gravity has over the past five years shifted decisively to the very heart of Pakistan. Does all of this still leave Pakistan with a hand to play? Yes, ofcourse. The ultimate ace up its sleeve is to search seriously for peace with India, step by step, but sincerely. The incantation of Hindu India, Hamsaya Dushman has begun to pall, even on Hillary Clinton who visits Islamabad next week.

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