Friday, January 25, 2013

Will Western Intervention For Africa’s Minerals Also Check Mate China?

Will Western Intervention For Africa’s Minerals Also Check Mate China?
                                                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 25.01.2013

The escalating conflict in Mali can best be understood if we pick up the narrative from NATO action in Libya.

Just when the Europeans were salivating on Libya, the Americans showed an early aversion to another adventure, after Afghanistan and Iraq.

The International Herald Tribune published a quarter page cartoon. Hatted European gents are sipping Campari under an umbrella. Uncle Sam, looking rather like a butler, reports, “there’s a fire next door”. One European, snapping his fingers, orders “don’t just stand there. Go put out the fire”. So, the US and NATO came in.

There were a dozen reasons why Qaddafi had to be killed. One of these was the Libyan strongman’s extensive influence in all of Africa, from the 70s when wars of National Liberation were in vogue. His influence extended from the remarkable intellectual Hasan Turabi in Sudan to the somewhat thuggish Charles Taylor in Liberia and beyond. Turabi was imprisoned. Taylor, ofcourse, was tried for war crimes and jailed. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with a Postgraduate degree from the US, (Like Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia) was installed President in 2006 for two terms of six years each. She has proceeded to outsource all logging and mining businesses. Democracy is on the march.

Likewise, when I turned up at El Fasher to see relief operations in Darfur, I expected to meet Africans since the African Union was managing relief camps. Instead I was introduced to Col. George D’Vione, a Frenchman who greeted me with great authority. He was as surprised by an Indian journalist in Darfur as I was meeting a Frenchman wearing an African union hat. It turned out he was representing the European Union on the AU’s ceasefire commission for Darfur.

Earlier I had met Brig. David Richards in Sierra Leone. He proceeded to become Britain’s Army Chief. Years ago Mrs. Thatcher’s son Mark Thatcher was placed under house arrest in Cape Town for attempting a coup in Equatorial Guinea with the help of Africans aching to be recolonized.

More recently, UN envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, has been making ominous statements. “It would be a serious miscalculation to believe that the status quo can last. “He said the threat to the status quo came from “extremists, terrorist and criminal elements in the Sahel region”.

In other words, the arrival of the French in Mali could well be the beginning of link ups across the oil and mineral rich regions stretching from Sudan across Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Western Sahara where the Polisario movement will derive strength from the reverberations. The Moroccan Monarchy will watch with anxiety how direct French intervention in the region will affect Rabat’s claims on Western Sahara. The Polisario, with support from Algeria, also has claims on this strategic stretch. Christopher Ross will obviously give the status quo some movement.

The United States launched its war on terror in Afghanistan in November 2001. The targets were Al Qaeda and its Taleban affiliates. Eleven years on, Islamic terror is striking at American troops in what is called Green on Blue or insider attacks.

The secular, efficient dictatorship of Saddam Hussain was destroyed and “Islamism” took over, including its terrorist variants. Likewise, Libyan secularism was replaced by the kind of extremism which resulted in the US ambassador being assassinated in Benghazi. Meanwhile, howls of protest are coming from the direction of those earlier opposed to the Assad regime in Syria and who now see Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, gaining the upper hand among Syrian opposition.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is all over Yemen, mutating as al Shabab in Somalia. There already is Boko Haram in Nigeria linking up with Ansar Dine in Mali.

In the Mali chaos, no one is talking about the 15th monuments destroyed in Timbuktu, vandalism on a scale reminiscent of the Bamyan Buddhas or even the looting of the great museum of Baghdad.

In the near future, there will be a line along the Sahel which will divide Africa into Muslim North and Christian South, with adjustments here and there. First, the Darfur model maybe tried: bring Arab Muslims and African Muslims into conflict.

Toss in the hundreds of tribes on both side of the religious divide, and there will be enough confusion to distract the Chinese who have stolen a march on all the others who are looking for Africa’s mineral wealth.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

What Political Profit From The Dhule Riots?

What Political Profit From The Dhule Riots?

                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

“Tumne ghar chora, chalo tum
to mohajir ho gae;
hum yahan haazir rahey
aur ghair hazir ho gae.”
(You left your homes and became mohajirs in Pakistan. We chose to be present here and find ourselves absent)

It was callous of those who tossed up this satirical couplet to relieve the tension in that room in Aurangabad. The elderly gent at the far end, took out his handkerchief to wipe his misty eyes. A young man in his late 20s, editor of an Aurangabad Urdu daily, Asian Express, said he could publish it as the song of the Muslims of Dhule. The riot affected town is in North Maharashtra, three hours drive from Aurangabad, where six Muslims youth were shot dead by the Police on January 6. Several were injured.

Muslim youth in riot hit areas, or districts where they have been held by the police for years on suspicion of terror and later found innocent, will obviously be alienated from the rulers. This much is obvious. But what is not obvious to the government, as it was not to me, that youth in their anger will locate an icon, a hero, a declamatory Rambo on a pulpit.

So, from district to district, city to city, video images of none other than Akbaruddin Owaisi, ranting to a thunderous applause are being transmitted on mobile phones.

Among a group in Dhule, I raise my hand. “Please stop this…..this is dangerous, inflammatory speech…….it can create riots”. A dark man with leathery skin regards me sternly. “Where were you or the government when Bal Thackeray was spewing venom, without a break for decades…..they didn’t have the guts to arrest him”. A pause. “And they arrested Akbaruddin because he is a Muslim, a soft target?”

Dhule, not far from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, was on the fateful day preparing itself to watch the third India-Pakistan cricket match. Briefly, the buildup to the riot is as follows.

A Muslim auto driver has an argument with Kishore Wagh, owner of a restaurant in Madhavpur near Machchi bazaar in the heart of Dhule. The issue is simple: nonpayment of a Rs.30 bill. Wagh hits the driver on his face with a ladle. Bleeding profusely. The injured reaches the Police Chowki, a 100 yards away, where the constables take no note of his injuries.

The driver returns to the scene with a dozen or so youth, only to find that the crowd near the restaurant has also swelled. Stone pelting begins from both sides. The Police Chowki, like a kiosk, is in the middle. The constables have run away. The Muslim mob pulls out the furniture and papers from the Chowki, make a pile on the road and set fire to it. The mobs on both sides have multiplied.

By setting fire to the Chowki, Muslims have already expressed their lack of confidence in police fairness. This is not surprising. In the earlier riots of 2008, the police had shot dead 11 Muslims. Police behavior on this occasion follows the same pattern. Police arrives, facing the Muslim mob. Its back is towards the community it feels more secure with. As the sky is filled with missiles from both sides, the police opens fire. Six Muslims are shot dead. Muslim houses and shops, within a stone’s throw from the police formation, are looted and gutted almost under Police supervision. All of this is available on videos in popular circulation. This is a technological advance in these riots. No one can tell lies.

When a State Reserve Police camp is permanently settled in Dhule, why is the police force so late in coming?

In a town with such a large Muslim population, would it not have helped if there were some Muslims in the force?

If you have five Muslims in a force of 300, “the five Muslims are in effect Hindus by another name” says a Hindu social worker. They have to be in a sizeable enough number to be able to influence the majority of the force, he says.

In the standard operating procedure, the police is less trigger happy with the bolt action 303 rifles. The new Self Loading Rifles (SLRs) are meant more to secure the borders than for urban riots. Why did the Police use these?

Muslims here are overwhelmingly, weavers, bangle sellers, paan and beetle nut sellers, petty shopkeepers. Ansaris, Maniyars, Tambolis are common names.

In a municipality of 55 members, 16 are Muslims, affiliated to all the mainstream parties in Mumbai. These councillors are virtual middlemen for state leaders, in whose electoral interest they try to keep the local flock. Sadly for them, the youth has lost faith in these “bought” corporators. That is the political dimension of these riots. Which of the corporators will deliver votes for Mumbai politicians – the profit of riots? Remember, Corporation, Assembly and Parliament elections are round the corner.

Supposing, SP Deepak Deshpande were to reach out to the youth who are the growing power, he has no means of doing so. He can only go to the sixteen corporators who alas, have no hold on the youth. The youth, not just in Dhule, is growing angrier by the minute. It is savvy on the social media, transmitting Owaisi’s rhetoric to its counterparts elsewhere. “The government, police, electronic media are against us; for them we are ghair hazir, not there” says a young man with a trimmed beard. “We have the Urdu press and the social media.” He asks me threateningly “you think these two will always move parallel to each other and not clash with a Big Bang?” This is not the language of a Mullah nor of the politically untrained.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Al Gore - Al Jazeera Alliance Runs Into An American Wall

Al Gore - Al Jazeera Alliance Runs Into An American Wall

                                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

Amazing how Al Gore did not anticipate the resistance to Arab intrusion into the American mind space. The Nobel Laureate and Vice President under Bill Clinton, is learning truths about American liberalism the hard way. He thought he would introduce intellectual variety into American discourse by bringing the world’s fastest growing TV channel, Al Jazeera into an alliance with his very own Current TV in California. But his intentions are being challenged.

On January 2, Gore outlined the purpose of his mission: “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell stories no one else is telling.”

Just in case someone thought Gore was taking the risk of exposing American mindscape to Arab influences, the Current TV’s spokesman Stan Collender, rushed to clarify: “This is a pure business decision that is based on recognized demand.”

It was a promising business model. Current’s viewership would be boosted considerably. Recent estimates promise that Al Jazeera’s novelty, plus its unparalleled professional and technical qualities would add an audience of 40 to 50 million viewers. It has the potential to grow even more.

Established global channels like CNN, ABC, CBS (even BBC is global, after all) would run for cover with their turf having been opened to competition from a channel owned by a man with the deepest pockets who ever took interest in the media, the Emir of Qatar.

Gore must have received something of a shock when America’s second largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable Inc, snapped its ties with Current as soon as Gore’s channel stuck a deal with Al Jazeera. Now the new channel named “Al Jazeera America” will have to find alternative cable outlets.

Robert Thompson, Professor of TV and Popular Culture at Syracuse University said it bluntly: “There’s a fair amount of paranoia when it comes to Al Jazeera”.

Jimmy Schaeffler, a pay TV consultant, elaborated: “people associate Al Jazeera with the Muslim world or the Arab world or the Islam world and they have problems with that.”

The surprise is that in the past two years Al Jazeera has been the toast of Washington. Hillary Clinton quoted it. CNN and BBC have been relying on it to boost their credibility whenever they had to telecast spurious news during the Libyan and Syrian operations.

I have not mentioned Al Jazeera’s coverage of Afghanistan and Iraq. This, because during those two military operations, Al Jazeera was on the opposite side, it reported the truth. It did not slant stories the way the US and its allies notably Saudi Arabia would have wanted it to.

The channel truly is a media phenomenon everyone likes to have an opinion on. But not many have cared to acquaint themselves with the circumstances in which it was launched.

The BBC, which ran its Arabic channel in collaboration with Orbit Communications, owned by the late Saudi King Fahd, had to close down its Arabic Service because the House of Saud would not permit a documentary on executions under Sharia Law to be telecast.

Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, who had serious differences with Saudi Arabia, invested $150 million to launch Al Jazeera in 1996. The Sheikh hired the BBC staff which had been fired by the BBC in pursuance of a new business model.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, CNN became the world’s first global channel which brought Operation Desert Storm right into the drawing rooms. A year later, BBC World Service TV was born. To break this Western monopoly on the media, focused excessively on the Muslim world, Al Jazeera was launched.

The West was livid. Intellectuals like Fouad Ajami, Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a vocal supporter of US occupation of Iraq, complained in a New York Times article, that Al Jazeera’s hero was Osama bin Laden. He was hopping mad that the channel had perfected “the sly game of mimicking Western norms of journalistic fairness while pandering to pan-Arab sentiments.” Why is the Professor bilious of that score?

For its sins, Al Jazeera offices in both Kabul and Baghdad were bombed by US helicopter gunships. A journalist was killed, several wounded, a senior correspondent was incarcerated in Spain.

When the Arab Spring began to topple dictatorships, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in sheer panic, came out of hospital in Europe, rained 135 billion on his population to douse incipient rebellion, extended his hand of friendship to Qatar and, since both were scared of the Arab Spring, the credibility of Al Jazeera was placed at the disposal of the West first in Libya and now in Syria.

It was during this period that Al Jazeera was transformed, by Western caprice, from enemy during Iraq and Afghan wars to a reliable ally in recent adventures. Riding this crest of popularity in the West, it found its way into Gore’s favour. What happens next will be worth watching.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Nothing In Recent History Has Gripped India As The Gang-Rape

Nothing In Recent History Has Gripped India As The Gang-Rape
                                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Anonymity of the New Delhi gang rape victim must be counted as a factor which has helped sustain remarkable youth mobilization to this day. If names were revealed at the very outset of the gruesome incident, it is just possible that caste differences would have come in the way of the unprecedented upsurge. Anonymity enabled Braveheart to transcend the limitations of caste and creed and be transformed into an icon, an idea.

The “idea” cannot be erased. But, as the case goes through the fast track court in Saket, it will become increasingly difficult to shield the name. It will reveal itself in the course of the trial, the usual leaks which, let us face it, are already in limited circulation. This evolution from total anonymity should be kept in mind while taking up Shashi Tharoor’s suggestion that the new law should be named after the victim whose tragedy compelled the nation’s attention in an extraordinary way. It was rape accompanied by unspeakable brutality, amplified by the media, that has, in the popular imagination, imparted a new meaning to the word rape itself – it is a terrifyingly grisly and gory act.

Anger across urban India, spearheaded by the youth, has been directed against the government, more specifically the law-and-order machinery, the Police. The scale of mass mobilization has already resulted in a fast-track court to be set up.

In the momentum of some good that has been initiated, there would be no harm making some more gains in all the States. Ofcourse, politicians, at all tiers, with any criminal record of which rape is one, should be run through speed courts. Those with convictions who are already in Panchayats, Assemblies and Parliament should, under new, stringent laws, be asked by the Election Commission to vacate their seats which will be filled up in bye elections.

The Police has been criticized, on occasion excessively and I have only one or two observations to make. In September 2011 when the Police shot dead six Meo worshippers, at the mosque in Gopalgarh, two hour’s drive from Delhi, all the Policemen at the Police Station were Gujjars. Gopalgarh is in a Meo majority area. Supposing there were two women constables and two Meos in the Police Station, wouldn’t the incident have been averted?

People, including rape victims, in need of Police help would approach a Police Station with a greater sense of confidence if the “thana” were something of a microcosm of the society where it is located.

In their anger, the youth have targeted policing as the only reasons for the ghoulish incident overlooking the reality that it is primarily a social issue.

In the 60s, driving around Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, I visited villages where it was proudly proclaimed that “we have never set up a ‘mandap’ in our village”. Which means “we” have never had to arrange a daughter’s marriage because no daughters were allowed to survive. They were given a dot of opium and buried in the sand at birth.

Studies show that a negative female-male ratio in parts of rural areas of neighbouring States is sometimes 6 girls to 10 boys. Societies in the past made a virtue of their regularized cruelties. But imagine the problems of adjustment boys and girls, reared in this outlandish supply and demand circumstance, face in the cauldron of the big, bad city.

Delhi is settled on countless villages where land value has in recent decades shot up astronomically. Young men from these villages which are now posh residential areas, have enough money to buy BMWs, join expensive nightclubs but they come across as brash and incapable of the sort of chemistry which would enable them to make contact with women who are city bred for a generation or two.

In the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck comes to New York to fulfill his dream of taking city bred women to bed. A third rate pimp, Enrico Ratzo (Dustin Hoffman) plays on Joe’s failures and leads him into a fetid life of pornographic stench. Enrico could be the bus driver of the current narrative.

I often suggest to my friends from the city’s fancy addresses, to occasionally visit the old city of Jama Masjid to experience a parallel lifestyle, as a sociological study. Women will not be leered at nor greeted with lewd remarks. This is true for all areas where people are settled for generations.

This is Delhi’s biggest problem. It is surrounded by socially backward states of UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and beyond, attracting migrations. The youth in the migratory populations occasionally suffer from the Midnight Cowboy syndrome. More prone to emotional maladjustment is a large population which transit through New Delhi’s razzle dazzle.

The agitation is led by the educated youth, which has grown up in an era of the market economy boom. Is it not ironical that this youth is so angry with a government which authored this era?

The vehicle for this economy is advertising. Carefully watch the ads between overs in any primetime cricket match. A girl in a see-through lingerie sits on a commode, which is what the ad is promoting. Virat Kohli, the cricketer, says “main ladki pataane ke do tareeqe janta hoon” (I know two tricks to seduce girls). He is promoting a mobile phone. A young hostess is so violently turned on by the perfume wafting from her elderly guest that she tears his suite off, leaving him in his underwear. A girl in black bras and panties, swoons on a particular condom even as she approaches a man in bed….. and so on.

Should someone not be agitating outside the ad giants and media houses which vend this ware? Is it wrong to assume that a surfeit of this stuff titillates hundreds of thousands cast in the image of the six in that ill fated bus and who must repeatedly be brought into focus as bleak and shoddy villains of history?

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