Sunday, July 29, 2012

Great Power Berserk: Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair

Great Power Berserk: Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair
                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

The famous newspaper tycoon, builder of San Simeon castle in California, William Randolph Hearst, knew the nexus between war and journalism. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”, he told American artist, illustrator, Frederic Remington.

The brazenness with which the media has been used by the Americans and their cohorts in Libya and now in Syria has its origins in American history.

The general attitude of racial superiority over those currently in the line of fire also has its abiding historical precedents.

When questions were asked about American excesses during the conquest of the Philippines, Senator Albert Beveridge, like so many others in Congress, said: “It has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators must remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals.”

It is an undeniable reality that racialism were rampant in the United States in late 19th early 20th centuries when atleast “two negroes were lynched by the mobs every week”. After all, Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement was climaxing just the other day when King had to pay with his own life. Also, we tend to forget that Mrs. Margaret Thatcher flatly refused to withdraw support to the apartheid system in South Africa when Rajiv Gandhi along with frontline African statesmen engaged her in London in 1986.

Indeed, it was only in February 1990 that Nelson Mandela’s 27 year long incarceration was brought to an end signaling an end to apartheid.

Despite the debris of war which surround it and over which it towers, there is the human side to the American which gets no play in the media. These are the conscientious objectors, who, atleast since the Iraq occupation are giving up their establishment jobs.

Some months ago, when the Syrian situation was under control, I found myself in the company of Edward Lionel Peck, an ex US ambassador to several Arab countries, driving in a bus from Damascus to Homs and Hama. That very day, the US ambassador Robert Ford with his French counterpart was driving from Deraa to Hama, Homs and sundry trouble spots, exhorting the people to rise. Obviously there were CIA trained Syrian cells which clustered around the ambassador. That afternoon I visited the palace to meet President Assad’s adviser, Buthaina Shabaan, one of the most elegant women in public life. She was as dazed as I was at the US ambassador combining in his persona both, diplomacy as well as 007 style espionage. As his boss in Baghdad’s Green zone, John Negroponte had praised him for his audacious outdoors diplomacy plus direct action.

A professional diplomat, Ed Peck, was disgusted with what he saw. He wrote to a friend of his also in that bus in Syria: “I have been dismayed by the accolades and support given to Ambassador Ford, our man in - and now out of Syria, for stepping well out of the traditional and appropriate role of a diplomat and actively encouraging the revolt/insurrection/sectarian strife/outside meddling, call it what you will, that is still going on.  It is easy to imagine the US reaction if an ambassador from anywhere were to engage in even distantly related activities here.  I fear my country remains somewhat more than merely insensitive, and is sliding into just plain rampant and offensive arrogance.”

When two planes flew into the twin towers, the US launched an endless (still continuing) war on terror. But when terrorists bomb and kill the Syrian Defence Minister and two other members of Assad’s cabinet, an overjoyed Economist says the attack “is greatly to be welcomed”!

When Al Qaeda and Taleban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, in March 2001, the world, Washington included, went into convulsion. And now, when Al Qaeda type movements, created by Western intervention in Libya, are destroying heritage sites in Timbaktu, there is barely a whisper.

What is going on? A war against Al Qaeda in Af-Pak and a deliberate manufacture of just those elements in Syria? Has New Delhi forgotten its breast beating against cross-border terrorism in Kashmir atleast since 1989? How will it ever raise that issue again having voted along with the west which stands for cross border terrorism by US, France, UK, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey against Syria?

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Stalin Not A Bad Word In Russia Any Longer

Stalin Not A Bad Word In Russia Any Longer

                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

Stalin is no longer a bad name in Russia.

As I get into the sleek Mercedes parked outside my downtown hotel, the big, burly Russian driver puts aside a book on Stalin he has been reading.

“Why Stalin?” I ask. He points to a large Metro station we pass. “He built this in 1937 the world’s greatest metro system with over 200 stations.” Then he is unstoppable in Russian which ofcourse I cannot follow.

My taxi driver is not the only Russian wrapped in nostalgia about the past. At a seminar on Pluralism and Separatism outside Moscow, in village Rogozinino, Russian scholar Sergey Kurginyan, takes my breath away: “a recent opinion poll suggests that 80% of the Russian population feel the people were better off during the Soviet period.”

Other Russian scholars find Kurginyan way off the mark. “Yes the older generation misses the stability in their lives.” They miss the world’s best public transport system – underground metro, trams, buses, subsidized taxis. “Not only could we reach our destinations easily, but the air was not polluted and there were no traffic jams.”

The younger generation, particularly the one in their 20s, are excited about the new cars, fancy restaurants, shops and shopping malls matching anything in the west. Not to be ignored are Moscow’s very own tailoring outfits, controlled by Sindhis from Hong Kong and quite in the image of Savile Row.

Russians across the board are sensitive to the status reversal they suffered with the Soviet collapse. This is Vladimir Putin’s strong point: he stokes Russian nationalism by appearing to stand upto the West. Informed opinion in Moscow suggests that Putin would have vetoed UNSC 1973 which gave NATO the right to impose a no-fly zone in Libya.

And now, Putin has dug his heels in on Syria. The view in Moscow is that “terrorism” as means of war will first recoil on countries of the region and then proceed to take its toll in enlarging concentric circles.

This does not mean that Putin is reckless in taking on the West. A source close to the Kremlin put it succinctly: if the choice is between Syria and Russia, then obviously he will not put Russia at risk.

Indeed, there is enough indication that he would like to ease tensions with the West. He needs this breathing space to consolidate on Russia’s vast oil, gas, timber, diamond and endless mineral wealth. Russia’s financial systems are not “globalised” and therefore not vulnerable on the European scale. This confidence provokes the US to devise ways to keep Russia off-balance, externally and internally.

When Pakistan closed the Karachi-Balochistan supply route to Afghanistan, Russians promptly enabled the Americans to set up a transportation hub at Ulyanovsk (ironically, Lenin’s birth place) to utilize the northern route.

Washington insisted that NATO radars in the Czech Republic and Interceptors in Hungary would be a pre condition for START negotiations. Putin agreed.

Putin also accommodated Washington on other conditions to begin START talks. Kremlin accepted terms which the military was opposed to.

Why? First it fulfils Putin’s desire to accommodate Washington.

Also, Moscow-Washington Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, creates an illusion of superpowers in conversation.

Numerous state sponsored programmes for Russians to study in American universities is part of the friendship offensive with the west.

The impression after a visit to Moscow is that the Kremlin is eager to ease its tensions with the West without compromising on its strategic interests. Recent floods in the south exposed systemic gaps. These Putin would like to plug on a priority basis before looking outwards.

Compared to Europe, Russia is such a cheerful story that Ukraine’s pro Europe bloc may soon wilt. A remarkable success story abutting Russia is Belarus. Call it Stalinist but, without having Russia’s resources, it is totally self sufficient sans crime. It escaped the trauma of Bandit Capitalism conferred on Moscow by the Boris Yeltsin regime.

As far as India is concerned, Russia is numero uno in the fields of Defense, Space and Atomic energy. Agreements for the third and fourth phase of Kudankulam Atomic power project were in the process of being signed during my Moscow stay. While negotiating pressures from the powerful, New Delhi must not be careless with its Russian assets.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Kashmir Graves, Murder In Chattisgarh, Gopalgarh… Is Anybody Listening?

Kashmir Graves, Murder In Chattisgarh, Gopalgarh… Is Anybody Listening?

                                                                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

I have stopped reading columns in the International Herald Tribune because I get most of them pushed through my door as op-ed articles in our mainstream English language newspapers. But last weekend, browsing through the edit page quite randomly, I spotted an article I had not seen in my New Delhi newspapers.

“Awaiting Justice In Kashmir” is an eight inch deep bottom – spread, written by Mirza Waheed, whose novel, “The Collaborator”, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2011.

The column, datelined London, begins: Last September, a lawmaker in India controlled Kashmir stood up in the State’s Legislative Assembly and spoke of a valley near his home constituency in the mountains. “In our area, there are big gorges, where lie the bones of several hundred people who were eaten by crows”.

Reading this, Waheed was “filled with a chill – I had written a similar story, a fictional one, in my novel about the lost boys of Kashmir”.

The Assembly that day was discussing 2,000 unmarked and mass graves discovered not far from the Line of Control. The facts being discussed formed the core of a report by the State Human Rights Commission. In other words what the law makers were discussing was an official report.

Most of those killed were civilians, ‘potentially the victims of extra judicial killing”. Waheed continues: “Corpses were brought in by the truckload and buried on an industrial scale”. The report catalogued 2,156 bullet-riddled bodies found in mountain graves.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware that atrocities like the one Waheed has written about will recur because the sheer accumulation of atrocities over the years has made us insensitive to pain outside our immediate environs. This results in mass amnesia, and that too without much interval between a tragic event and its erasure from memory.

What Waheed has written about did make quite a splash in an NDTV show last year. Typically, such has been the consumption rate of atrocities, that the Kashmir story had vacated my memory cells until Mirza’s column.

Take another example. In September it will be exactly one year when the Gopalgarh unit of the Rajasthan Police shot and killed 10 Muslims in the local mosque. Attacks on Muslims during prayer by a group or a sect, with the support of the local police, are occasionally reported from Pakistan, but the Gopalgarh atrocity inside a mosque is a first in India as far as my memory can fathom.

The Gopalgarh incident arose from a dispute between Meo Muslims and local Gujjars over a watering hole behind the mosque which the Gujjars use for their cattle.

Meo’s are a fascinating community deriving lineage from Meena’s a politically powerful tribal community totally opposed to the Gujjars. Here comes a sociological twist. A Meena may belong to the BJP but, he can still claim support in Meo pockets by virtue of their caste and “gotra” or sub caste links.

Gujjars find the Meenas too strong to take on frontally, but a spineless Congress leaves Meos exposed as soft targets in places like Gopalgarh. Initially Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot took an interest in the matter but failed to take action against the local police and district administration. “RSS and VHP which backed the attack on the mosque are free” says Ramzan Chaudhry, a social worker, “but a dozen innocent Meos are in jail without trial”. After a year’s waiting Ramzan and his group met the Chairman of the National Minorities Commission, Wajahat Habibullah. He promptly arranged for the agitated group to meet Rahul Gandhi. “Let us see if some action follows”, says Ramzan.

The next scene opens in Bijapur, Chattisgarh, where bodies of teen agers haunt you until the next spell of amnesia. Let us see what the Judicial inquiry finds out.

In March 2011, following a report in the Hindu about 300 houses torched, two men killed and three women raped in Sukina district, a judicial probe was ordered. The government has not made the report public. In fact, going a bit into history, even the Ghulam Hussain report on the Hashimpura massacre is gathering dust for 25 years.

Mirza Waheed asks a question: “Kashmiris who have disappeared; Kashmiri Pundits who fled in 1990; the mass graves. Would there have been a (global) uproar had such atrocities been reported from Libya or Homs in Syria?” Is he asking the question of Washington or New Delhi?

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Mid East War In The Cards?

A Mid East War In The Cards?

                                                    Saeed Naqvi

Is a war in the Middle East in the cards? What is happening at the moment is something of a paradox: a war is not being planned but there is frenetic contingency planning all around. It is precisely in these kinds of situations that “accidents” take place which lead to war.

In other words there is no conflict as such, except inside Arab societies, notably Syria and Bahrain, but there is sufficient tension in the region which can be amplified by the willing electronic media. Washington’s ability to give suitable “spin” to events in the region, particularly, Syria and Iran, will from now on be determined by the requirements of Barack Obama’s re election strategy.

If, for instance, his campaign managers divine that he will be hugely helped by war drums without war actually breaking out, the propaganda war will be ratcheted up and he will go into the election looking like a President at war.

War drums, sans war, will also keep public and Congressional attention riveted on the Middle East. This will have the additional advantage of keeping focus away from the “war of choice”, Afghanistan, which Obama has been promising to wind down ever since he assumed office.

There is no credible script available in the public domain which gives the slightest indication that the Americans are about to leave Afghanistan. Terms like “draw down” and “cutback” have been used but even these terms have a caveat attached to them. “The date of inauguration of the drawdown is not cast in stone; it will depend on the situation on the ground, on how many of 3,200,000 Afghan troops are in readiness”…..and so on.

However degrading a bargain Pakistan may have struck with the Americans on the Karachi-Balochistan supply route to Afghanistan, it will convince itself that it has resumed having some leverage on the Americans.

From the American point of view, resumption of supply routes eases a burden, ofcourse, but it also provides them with another opportunity to have more secure relations with a country they have penetrated so deeply over six decades. It is that much more important to watch it up close and from neighbouring Afghanistan because it is the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons.

A case is made out that the Americans, indeed the International Community, is extremely anxious the Pakistan nuclear weapons may fall into “militant”, “extremist”, “fundamentalist”, “terrorist” hands.

If this be a genuine anxiety, surely the effort should be to contain terrorism. To the contrary, the manner in which the war on terror has been fought has only swelled the ranks of terrorists and enlarged their area of operation.

It is universally acknowledged that terrorism has grown in North West Pakistan, Punjab, Karachi and large swathes of Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda, trained in Yemen by the Saudis at the same time that the Mujahideen were being trained in Afghanistan to expel the Soviets, are rampaging through Yemen under an inexplicable label AIAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).

Daily suicide bombings in Iraq must also be placed at the door of those who occupied the country for a decade.

There was a procession of Tripoli bound Western leaders after Qaddaffi shed his nuclear programmes, until some West supported regimes in the Middle East fell. How can those who have stood by the West fall and those in opposition allowed to survive?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proceeded to parody Julius Caesar. She rephrased Vini, Vidi, Vici, to match her style: “I came, I saw and he died”. From her statement the video cuts to a trapped Qaddaffi, sodomized by a knife!

Clinton has for the past year been exhorting “Assad to get out of the way”. But Assad won’t listen. He sits on a system quite as durable as the one Saddam Hussain supervised in neighbouring Iraq. The US had to occupy that country for a full decade. Without that kind of commitment, Assad cannot be pushed out. Yes, US, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey can help the disparate groups some of which have Ayman Zawahiri’s support, to create conditions for civil war.

Is the West, not averse to Zawahiri’s company, left with any credit to mobilize the world against those who destroyed the Bamyan Buddhas and are now, like a wandering malignancy, turning upon heritage sites in remote Timbaktu?

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