Friday, March 30, 2012

Turkey Gets Its Finger Burnt In Syria

Turkey Gets Its Finger Burnt In Syria
                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

A world which seemed to be on the edge of a catastrophe a few weeks ago, suddenly gives the impression of pulling back from the brink. President Obama and Supreme leader Ali Khamenei have both indicated a preference for diplomacy over militarism. In Syria President Bashar al Assad has thanked the five nation BRICS summit for upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Turkey which played a role in raising the stakes and now lowering it, deserves a close look. A mildly Islamized democratic Turkey ruled by its most charismatic Prime Minister ever, Tayyep Erdogan, was incorporated in the management of what had at one stage acquired the label of Arab Spring.

Folks in Erdogan’s entourage, particularly foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, were sketching tentative plans of playing out Erdogan’s charisma and Turkey’s new economic status on a larger Arab canvas.

These plans had clearly not been thought through because they came into conflict with stated policy. One such policy was fairly explicit: zero problems with neighbours. Such a policy would entail a curbing of obvious quest for influence beyond the borders.

But Erdogan’s exceptional success, a substantial improvement in his party’s vote share through three successive elections, something of a record, placed temptations in the way of his foreign policy team.

At its outset, the Arab Spring conjured up images of people’s power leading to a search for democratic models. What better model for an awakening in the Muslim world than the secular Republic of Turkey under soft Islamic influence?

Few leaders have been mobbed the way Erdogan was in post Mubarak Cairo. After Qaddafi’s brutal murder, he turned up at the Tripoli square to say his prayers like the Caliphs of an era long past.

It is a truth Arab leaders (not the people) hate to admit that Iran, Hezbullah and Syria, in that order, are the most popular entities in the Arab street because of their rhetoric and unwavering support for the Palestinian cause.

The US and the Saudis would be happier if Turkey, mostly Sunni and a member of NATO was to replace the Iran-Hezbullah-Syria trio in the popularity stakes. Erdogan knows elementary West Asian politics: for popularity in the Arab street, it is almost an essential pre condition to be viewed with suspicion in Jerusalem.

This Erdogan has achieved with distinction by gestures like walking out on Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos or taking a tough line against Israel for their attack on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

When the West set up a role for Turkey to prevent suspected Iranian nuclear plans, Ankara accepted the role with a proviso that enhanced its stock in Arab eyes: Iranians can be dissuaded from their alleged nuclear plans only if Israel’s nuclear arsenal is also placed on the table!

In the meanwhile, some Turkish think tanks began to have visions of replicating an Ottoman version of the British Commonwealth in the Arab region. This is anathema to the Arabs and may well have been one reason for a decline in enthusiasm for a Turkish role in the region.

Ankara too is beginning to realize that a dilution of its “zero-problems-with-neighbours” policy has heavy costs attached to it. Its material and military support to the protesters in Syria was to some extent because of Erdogan’s earlier Muslim Brotherhood association. It was this weakness of Erdogan’s the west exploited to destabilize the Syrian regime. But to their utter embarrassment 49 Turkish soldiers were arrested by the Syrian army. It also occurred to Ankara that Syrians can always aggravate Turkey’s Kurdish problem. After all, Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian Kurds are bunched in contiguous territory. They can always make common cause against Ankara.

Buried under the surface is a deep rooted issue most Turks have developed an amnesia about.When the Sunni-Alawi divide widened in Syria, the 20 million Turkish Alawis (who have under Kemalist edict compulsorily adopted Turkish identity) showed signs of restiveness. The issue is no trifling matter.

Above all, something Turks are privately suspicious of is the West prodding Ankara to play a larger role. “They never allowed us to enter Europe. Are we now being pushed into a larger role so we come into conflict with all our neighbours. In fact it must be galling for Europe that Greece, the mother of Western Civilization, is on its knees while we, whom they would not allow to enter Europe, are the regional power by a long shot!”

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Giving The Marginalized A Voice

Giving The Marginalized A Voice
                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Nothing fuels conflict more than a sense of injustice across a broad spectrum. Of these, some issues have a more powerful emotional resonance than others.

Helplessness, a feeling that there is no redressal for injustice leads to the sort of suffocation which often erupts in violence. If there is a ventilator of, say, the ballot box, the aggrieved vent their cumulative anger by voting out a party identified with injustice. This is what happened in UP.

In India some of this anger can possibly be dissipated by taking the route of the ballot box. But how does one address the grievances of the legions whose plaints are against the international system?

There is no nightmare more scary than the one in which you cannot scream, run or hit back despite your best efforts. This is precisely the sort of frustration, anger, helplessness which grips you when confronted by a brazenly one sided discourse beamed at you by the media. Here you are, a captive audience of a narration which you find totally unconvincing and about which you can do nothing except to vacillate between anger and rage.

There are different ways in which the media impacts. If you are indifferent or neutral or not terribly fastidious about the veracity of a story, your mind is liable to be made up or atleast influenced by the anchor or writer who is dispensing information or opinion. But if you are familiar with a subject you will not accept the version, particularly a doctored version, and feel a quiet anger build up because you cannot rebut.

You would, however, feel your sense of isolation relieved somewhat if other points of view were incorporated into the narrative to give it balance. Hence the need for a public service (not government) media.

During the cold war, Soviet propaganda was countered by the much more credible fare provided by the western media, particularly BBC World Radio. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the western media has allowed its credibility to plummet on two counts.

Since the victory over the Soviet system was wrongly interpreted as a vote of confidence in unbridled capitalism, the media became a creature of the market.

Secondly, from the cold war, the West descended into a series of hot wars. In wars, it is universally acknowledged, the first casualty will always be the truth.

In no sphere has the media done more harm than in its coverage of the war on terror. The world has been divided down the middle between those who choose to believe the media and those who see themselves as its victims. This divide is not only restricted to the coverage of the war on terror.

It has now been carried over to the coverage of wars themselves in the Muslim world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Ofcourse, the manner in which the war on terror is being fought and covered has divided the Muslim world from the rest. But conventional wars and their coverage have played an even more pernicious role, that of dividing Muslim societies along sectarian lines. In the past five decades who had ever heard of Shia assertion and Al Qaeda’s revenge in Iraq?

Let me revert to my original theme: a sense of helplessness among those whose point of view is never included in the discourse generated in the western media. Does anyone remember the deathly silence in the West after Rev. Jerry Falvel’s post 9/11 rantings?

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians – all those who have tried to secularize America – I point a finger in their face and say: “You have helped this happen”. Falvel was in the company of thousands who saw God’s revenge in the collapse of the twin towers.

Can you then blame Sheikh Salman of the Wafaq party complain in Bahrain: “This kind of nonsense is never placed under the western microscopes. The smallest Muslim misdemeanor is amplified.“

Likewise, when did you last hear a TV discussion on the causes and conclusion of, say, the Samjhauta Express bombing? Whereas a Muslim journalist whose guilt is far from established becomes a staple for the 24X7 media. It is this kind of perceived injustice which leaves a community seething with rage.

The panacea is public service media, insulated as much from the government as the market, something the Prime Minister promised during UPA-I.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Will Akhilesh Emerge From His Father’s Shadow?

Will Akhilesh Emerge From His Father’s Shadow? Saeed Naqvi Is there a whiff of fresh air about Samajwadi Party’s 38 year old Akhilesh Yadav being sworn in as the Chief Minister in Lucknow? I was in a cheerful frame of mind about the event until the Pundits waylaid me. “The goons are back” said one. “How will Akhilesh ever control them?” “You mean Raja Bhaiyya?” I asked. “His crimes derive from his feudal temperament”, said the pundit. He then rattled off a host of other “real goons”. “And do you know?” asked another conspiratorially. “Mulayam Singh has planted on him the same IAS officer Anita Singh as his secretary, the very same whose name was linked with Mulayam Singh.” He winked wickedly. The third, much the most excited, navigated the conversation into the expected alleys. “The same old links are being firmed up” he said like he were Wikileaks. “Soon after the swearing in, Mulayam and his gang went to Subrato Roy’s party, whereas poor Akhilesh had to follow protocol and make a mandatory appearance at the Governor’s tea party.” Then, “did you see how the thugs pulled down the podium on which the ceremony was held?” griped the fourth. These are senior journalists, mind you. Just when my good cheer was beginning to fade, I snapped “can’t you see anything positive on a day when the youngest chief minister, from a family of homespun “other-backward castes”, was being sworn in as chief minister of the country’s biggest state?” His term at a Sainik school and University from Bangalore makes him that much more in tune with the times compared with his father. The negative talk mentioned earlier, travels across the metropolitan whispering galleries. The attitude integral to this talk is then dressed up as material for the media. For the hardened politician, like Mulayam, it does not matter, but for new entrants like Akhilesh, it can be disconcerting. Even for someone like Rahul Gandhi, the “attitude” is misleading. Instead of letting him reflect on why he came a cropper in UP and whether there is any traction left in him, the pundits are at it again, fawning all over Rahul. “He pulled up the Congress vote share by 4 percent which will be a huge advantage in 2014.” Frankly, if Rahul is going to allow himself to be surrounded by the same self seeking groups singing the syrupy tune, is there any doubt that he will be deluded into another debacle come 2014? Surely, he knows elementary Congress history. Except those who derive their political lineage exclusively from the Hindu Mahasabha, all other regional, caste, communal parties were once under the Congress canopy. Even the Hindu Mahasabha spawned Congressmen. Pushottam Das Tondon, for instance. In fact one of the terminal problems the Congress faces is just this: its avowal of secularism is no longer taken seriously, certainly not by the minorities as recent UP elections demonstrate. Also, I wonder what Rahul makes of the mess his party is in Uttarakhand. The sequence of events need not have followed the script which suggests that the state was created to preserve the traditional Indian caste hierarchy which egalitarianism has toppled elsewhere in the country. What else do you expect Harish Rawat, a Rajput, to conclude after having helped the party win in 2002 and again in the recent elections and yet, on both occasions is bypassed? Brahmin Chief Ministers are preferred. As if the “Savarna-Avarna” (high caste/low caste) divide was not bad enough in UP and the rest of the country, the Congress has gone and institutionalized the rupture in the “Savarna” fold too, further aggravating the atomizing process. Unlike the Grand old party, Akhilesh’s outfit is not burdened with so much history. An OBC based party with Socialist pretensions, it held out a helping hand to the Muslims in distress. The love affair with the minorities remained an up and down affair while Mulayam was around. The challenge for Akhilesh is to consolidate, something he cannot do without a fresh infusion of advisers. These will help insulate him from critics mentioned at the outset, the ones who control most of the media and will not give up their hostility for visceral caste reasons. Mulayam Singh’s experience will be of value but Akhilesh must, like Ghalib, have the courage to say: “Don’t quarrel with me, my father. No man of vision has ever pleased the faith of his forbears!” # # # # # #

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Muslims Decided to Give Congress a Drubbing

Why Muslims Decided to Give Congress a Drubbing
Saeed Naqvi

Why is the Muslim so cross with the Congress after having been the party’s willing vote bank for six decades? Because an overwhelming sense of injustice has been accentuated by specific grievances. As he replays those sixty years in the mind’s eye in very slow motion, that period, in excess of half a century, comes across to him as a chronicle of wasted time. He would probably have continued to drift in a daze, doped and despairing, silently nursing his grievances until the Sachar Committee report in 2006 confronted him with a mirror in which he saw what had become of him in the sixty years of having been locked up in the Congress paddock. In socio-economic terms he had been reduced to the lowest of the low, to the bottom of all hierarchies.

Ofcourse, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had the heart to institute Sachar Committee. But once the report was in hand, the party closed in on them and firmly stayed their hand from implementing the Ranganath Mishra Committee prescriptions to repair the muslim condition exposed by Sachar.

Likewise, the Congress refused to dust up the Srikrishna report on the Mumbai riots on 1993 which were every bit as gruesome as the Gujarat pogrom.

Narendra Modi will never be a national leader because of Gujarat 2002. But how is Sharad Pawar exempt from all guilt? He, as Defence Minister, was in a conflictual stalemate with Chief Minister Sudhakar Naik even as the riots intensified.

Incidentally, why does nobody talk of the Ghulam Hussain report on Maliana near Meerut, India’s original Sebrenica?

Short of seeking retirement, a lesson Sonia Gandhi must learn from UP and elsewhere is fairly simple: advisers who have congealed around her and Rahul should be shown the door.

Shekhar Gupta is right. Do you really believe the voter is a “beggar” in whose extended palm you place a few bogus promises of “reservations” and you will send him away pleased? This is what Salman Khushid’s 9 percent adds upto.

How totally out of touch with the Muslim mood the Congress was became clear during the debate on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The assumption in the Prime Minister’s office that the minorities were against it is complete nonsense.

Remember how minority groups blocked George W Bush from addressing a joint session of Parliament when he visited India? The US President picnicked at the Old Fort instead.

This was because of Muslim anger at Bush for the manner in which his war on terror painted the world’s Muslims as terrorists. It was insensitive of the leadership not to have distinguished anger with Bush from opposition to the nuclear deal.

The manner in which the Indian establishment has been infected by that war on terror has created an almost unbridgeable chasm between the establishment and the minorities.

A boy is locked up for 14 years without trial and you expect the minorities, so beholden, to rain votes on you?

A dozen acts of terror since November 2007 have been attributed to “Indian Mujahideen” a group which, experts believe does not exist. And yet hundreds, carrying the label of a non existent group are languishing in custody.

Against this record of fighting terror you have gone and picked up an honourable journalist. Memory of such incidents will not fade by 2014!

The bombing incident involving an Israeli diplomat took place in New Delhi on February 13, over two weeks before the last votes were cast in the recent state elections. But the so called suspect Saiyyid Ahmad Kazmi, an Urdu journalist working for India’s national TV, Doordarshan, as well as Iranian News Agency, was picked up by the Special police the day results were being declared.

Supposing Kazmi, a gentleman among journalists, had been arrested soon after the February 13 whodunit, would the UP election results been worse as 24X7 channels exhibit another Muslim in police trap. It is Kazmi type midnight-knock operations that have damaged the Congress infinitely more than the bogus promises about reservations Salman Khurshid thought would pull his wife, Louise, through in Farrukhabad. A pity she lost her deposit. Worse, Congress President Sonia Gandhi lost every single seat in Rae Bareli.

There is obviously a deep anti Congress mood in the country for which the party’s first family must share considerable blame. The coterie around them did not sense this mood.

Numerous other reasons (anti incumbency in UP, for instance) add up, but the primary reason for the Congress rout and one the pundits are underplaying, was the Muslim determination to teach the party a lesson.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

French Officials in Syrian Custody Could Rock Sarkozy’s Electoral Boat

French Officials in Syrian Custody Could Rock Sarkozy’s Electoral Boat
Saeed Naqvi

On February 17, I wrote:
“The Syrians are keeping their eyes on the ‘clock’ and hastening slowly towards tightening the cordon on Baba Amro in Homs.”

The “Clock” is important because after their recent visit to Damascus Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and senior intelligence officials in his entourage, had given the Syrian leadership a fortnight in which to clean up areas of the country where “foreigners” were helping local protesters with military advisers and arms, sophisticated enough to blow up tanks. Baba Amro became something of a headquarters for this rebel activity, because cunning underground passages have been dug from across the border in Lebanon.

By a coincidence, just when the Baba Amro operation was underway, “Friends of Syria”, met in Tunis to plot Bashar al Assad’s overthrow. A graphic account of the messy conference is available in Time Magazine.

What is not available is the exact reason why Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal walked out of the conference after his meeting with the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The Saudis, playing for very high stakes in Syria, were keen to obtain European recognition for the fragmented Syrian National Council. This, according to them, would function as the Syrian government in exile.

Juppe was in a bind. If France recognizes the government in exile, diplomatic relations with Damascus would automatically snap. Who then does Juppe turn to for release of the French military advisers held in Syrian custody? If France does not recognize the SNC and the US and Britain do, the increasingly messy Syrian affair will begin to acquire the potential of fracturing the Western alliance. In fact, Just as the British closed their Damascus embassy for security reasons, the French Ambassador returned to the city.

A mischievous idea making the rounds is that Assad invite French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a goodwill visit and deliver the French prisoners to him gift wrapped.

If this story is just a joke then it is a bad joke on poor Sarkozy, in the midst of an election.

Should the story of the French in Syrian custody become public in France, the voters will ask: did the government sanction illegal entry of our soldiers into foreign countries? Or, does the government not know that its military was involved in overseas adventures? Is the Syrian rebellion an imported rebellion?

Eversince Qatar joined forces with the Saudis to protect Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms from the Arab winds of change, their joint capacity to pick up massive bills, like the cost of NATO action in Libya, has increased astronomically.

Rent a NATO therefore may well have been on their minds when they sought Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s help in giving thought to the proposition that NATO be brought into play over Syria.

Clinton has to clear up other mess, as in Afghanistan, where inadvertent Quran burning – some inadvertence – has led to a spree of killing of Americans and their supporters. The situation threatens to derail the NATO Plus conference on Afghanistan President Obama has carefully arranged to be held in Chicago in May as a build up to his election campaign. No surprise, therefore that Clinton was able to give no joy to Saud al-Faisal in Tunis. This may be billed as the second reason for his walk out.

In response to GCC and Western persistence on Syria, the Russian Ambassador in Lebanon has told Al Jazeera that the people of Bahrain needed help against their King.

If Russians are going to play games, say diplomatic sources in New Delhi, there are games the west can play against them too.

Russians have a great affinity with their brother Slavs in Serbia. It hit them where it hurts when the Americans carved out an independent Republic of Kosovo after the 72 days of bombing which pulverized Slobodan Milosevic.

The emergence of Kosovo was the realization of ancient Turkish aspirations too. There is now some talk of Turks being lured into replicating a Kosovo-like enclave in Syria. If true, this move could be a trap for Turkey and a provocation for Russia. You will notice the Turks are already backtracking on cross border help for the Syrian opposition.

They are proposing the Cypriot route for funneling arms. Once this is legitimized, the world will be very close to recognizing the part of Cyprus which the Turks occupy. The Syrian tragedy is yielding to a delightful game of regional chess.

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