Friday, May 24, 2013

Khalid Mujahid: War On Terror Continues To Terrorize

Khalid Mujahid: War On Terror Continues To Terrorize

                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Good luck to the UPA as it attempts to put a positive spin on its nine years in power but let me insert here a word of caution about the manner in which its war on terror is causing the world’s second largest Muslim population to be dangerously alienated from the state.

I was in Lucknow when the custodial death of Khalid Mujahid caused deathly silence in my family which, sadly, has also begun to lose faith.

Those in New Delhi blinded by the approaching state and national elections must look a little beyond and rein in a situation which, if not controlled will unleash unspeakable instability.

The war on terror has already trapped Pakistan in a situation from which it cannot easily exit. If it sustains the war on terror, it falls prey to the law of unintended consequences. Every attack causes the ranks of the militants to swell. Every peace overture causes them to regroup and consolidate. There is no reliable gauge to measure the inclination of the Army and the Americans in given circumstances.

In the Indian context the war on terror does worse: it tends to divide the world’s largest minority from the rest.

If it were to be a tidy separation of the Muslims from the “rest” and the rest were a solid bloc of sorts, you have the outlines of a Hindu state. This outcome may be to the liking of persons with a certain ideological bent. But any fool can tell you that is not the way the cookie is crumbling, given the country’s linguistic ethnic and caste divisions. But something even more dangerous is happening.

Witness the behaviour of lawyers in places like Faizabad or Lucknow: they are openly with the police as it wantonly picks up “terrorists”, who will never ever be convicted. Indeed, who will never be tried even.

Some lawyers, who in this case happen to be Muslims, are physically threatened if they attempt to take up a “terrorist” case for trial. A terrorist, once picked up, is not entitled to a trial? The District Bar Association of Faizabad condemned a protest march against Khalid Mujahid’s death in custody. Bar association membership of Shakeelur Rehman, Nadeem Ahmad and Saleem Ahmad, lawyers sympathetic to Khalid Mujahid, were cancelled. And the great constitutional democracy watches these shadows of fascism lengthen over the Republic without as much as a murmur?

How did we arrive at a situation where the “war on terror” is being waged by an unbridled machinery? Convictions are in inverse proportion to the sound and fury of the war being waged.

Enough has been written on communal conflict in India since independence. Electoral politics has continuously stirred up this already simmering bowl. The war on terror has been catastrophic. It has been like huge boulder tossed into a giant cauldron bubbling over.

A quick look at how it all happened.

Soon after 9/11, the US enlisted Pakistan as the frontline state in its war on terror. This hit New Delhi where it hurts. India had been a victim of cross border terrorism at least since 1989, when the spare Jehadi energy after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan boomeranged on Kashmir.

By October 2001, the Taleban had been ousted from Kabul with Pakistan’s help. To qualify for membership of the major league in the global war on terror, New Delhi had to wait for its Parliament to be attacked on December 13, 2001. This was no longer mere cross border terrorism. Here was global Jehad (it was alleged) striking at the very heart of India. A moot question was not asked: who would profit from the outrage? Look at the complexity. Two nuclear armed, instinctively adversarial neighbours, participating in the US led war on global terror are simultaneously, training their guns on each other for a fight to the finish. Does the scenario make logical sense? How could two neighbours, led by a superpower, break out into mutual hostilities abandoning the so called just war? So, the post parliament attack eye-ball to eye-ball posture was just that – a posture.

Joining the global war on terror had two other consequences. Major intelligence Agencies headquartered in Washington, Jerusalem, London or Riyadh rushed in to share and control information in India, for instance. Doesn’t the situation automatically curtail autonomy of action?

Also, by its very nature, the war on terror is an interminable war. Participating nations cannot blow the whistle and announce victory. In other words, the machinery put in place to fight this war has to be kept in drill by being required to fight phantom enemies too.

Can a country already riven into castes, languages, religions afford to be trapped in a war which will keep its people doubly divided in perpetuity? As it is, caste and communal sub divisions have become a nasty and inevitable accompaniment to electoral democracy.

How do we pull ourselves back from the precipice? For a poison running so deep let us take a long historical view. Communal conflict, aggravated after 1857 received a huge boost during the Partition of 1947. Electoral democracy, in quest of vote banks, has subsequently proceeded hollow out the much profaned word, secularism. The war on terror, the way it has been fought, has globally multiplied the terror cells. In India this war excavates along communal fault lines. It has created a potential for communal conflict without end.

I was in this bleak frame of mind when I received a call from a friend in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia. No country has been more brutalized by ethnic and religious conflict as Bosnia in the 90s. Recently citizens of Sarajevo have agreed on a symbol for their nation – The Sarajevo cube. The cube, when in perfect fit, is an exquisite mosaic of an Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic church, a synagogue and a mosque, as they lined the Sarajevo skyline before the Balkans war.

Where has it fled, India’s visionary gleam?

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Rewind To 1999 Bus Journey That Never Happened

Rewind To 1999 Bus Journey That Never Happened
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

She walked into my study with a sort of aggressive authority that has become the hallmark of younger TV interviewers, custom made for shrill current affairs chat shows.

“Should our Prime Minister accept the invitation of Nawaz Sharif who invited our Vajpayeeji by bus and then stabbed him in the back in Kargil?” She started. This is the rough translation of her question in Hindi.

As anyone can see, she is all over the place on facts. That evening I gasped when she shrieked on her TV show titled “Kargil ka Hathyara” or the Murderer of Kargil. This was about Nawaz Sharif. Thank God, the infection has not spread. One or two did jump the gun just in case they were left behind in the TRP stakes but were pulled back by someone in the wings.

Since Nawaz Sharif has anchored his friendship overture to 1999, the date of the so called Amritsar-Lahore bus journey, the journey will be brought into focus repeatedly. Because I was on that bus, it may be useful to clarify that the Amritsar-Lahore journey did not exactly take place.

Yes, a bus with Vajpayee and his impressive entourage did drive from Amritsar but the journey was terminated at Wagah border. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Information Minister, Mushahid Hussain, received Vajpayee in the no-man’s land between Attari and Wagah. From this safe location the two Prime Ministers travelled by a Pakistan Army helicopter to the VIP Government Guest House in Lahore. The rest of the Indian delegation drove in cars. There were no crowds along the 25 Km highway.

Obviously, in Pakistan, there was some tension with the security apparatus which could not guarantee an incident free journey for the Indian Prime Minister, if crowds were allowed to assemble along the route. The easiest way to avoid any complications was to airlift Vajpayee, exactly from no-man’s land.

In Lahore, the establishment was unable to manage the crowds mobilized by the Islamists. This was before 9/11, mind you and the global anti Jihadist Jihad. Vajpayee did visit Minar-e-Pakistan as a grand gesture. But the gesture caused the Jamaat-e-Islami to respond most inelegantly: they washed the Minar to cleanse it of whatever taint may have stuck to it. The evening’s banquet hosted by Vajpayee in the Lahore Fort was delayed because mobs obstructed the Indian delegation.

Following their respective nuclear tests in May 1998, leaders of both the countries had come under severe international pressure to yoke themselves under a treaty for friendship and nuclear restraint. That is why, the Lahore Declaration is a historic document signed by Nawaz Sharif under domestic circumstances and a national mood he was not totally in control of. In retrospect, there appears to have been so much pressure on both sides that pre summit preparations were clearly inadequate. On his side, Sharif was unable to bring all major internal stakeholders like the Army on board. Vajpayee hoped that Sharif would somehow cope.

Pervez Musharraf therefore started out on the wrong side of President Bill Clinton and had his ears tweaked when the US President spent five days in New Delhi and only five hours in Islamabad.

Ofcourse, Musharraf proceeded to become something of a pet with George W Bush. He took on himself the blowback from the Afghan war climaxing in the post Lal Masjid catastrophe.

Sharif escaped being implicated with the Americans at a time when Pakistan was in the grip of anti Americanism on a scale unknown before. It was a potent combination of this fact along with spiraling Punjabi chauvinism which has enabled him to trump Imran Khan’s even more strident anti Americanism.

This verdict for Sharif is heavily concentrated in Punjab, a situation custom made for centrifugal pulls.

It is deft of him to have extended a hand to Imran Khan. But the verdict for the MQM in Karachi is developing into a confrontation. MQM’s Altaf Hussain has congratulated Sharif and nurses a grievance that his gesture has not been reciprocated. Altaf Hussain’s plaintive cry “Let us go if you don’t like our election results” is a repeat of his speech at Acton Town Hall outside London in 2000. “Pakistan is a historic mistake, if all of us do not have an equal share”. He had Baloch, Pushtoon and Sindhi leaders on that platform. Today he is all alone, jabbing out like a cat which is cornered. For the MQM this is an existential battle?

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Washington and Moscow Trying To Square A Circle in Syria

Washington and Moscow Trying To Square A Circle in Syria

                                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

After 70,000 Syrians have paid with their lives in the foreign induced conflict in Syria, why has the American perspective changed? Even so, it was nice to see Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, embrace each other last week in Moscow. Kerry also met President Vladimir Putin who, in Kerry’s presence, asked Lavrov to take over the task of navigating the Syrian crisis towards a peaceful resolution.

At about the same time two years ago Hillary Clinton, with an imperious wave of the hand, was demanding that “Assad, get out of the way”. Why then would the US, and its allies, accept the Geneva Communiqué, which envisages an end to violence and creation of a transitional government which could include members of the Assad regime.

If Israeli air strikes inside Syria and allegations of use of chemical weapons either by the regime or the opposition had not captured recent headlines, there would be pretty little for Kerry to discuss with the Kremlin leadership. What transpired in Moscow under the circumstances, appears to be an endorsement of the Lavrov-Assad line on Syria which has, in essentials, remained unchanged over the past two years.

What was the purpose of Israeli air strikes on Syrian targets? They were a reminder that the splintered opposition needed help because it was no longer being able to hold ground.

The strikes came in the wake of an anti Assad regime whispering campaign about chemical weapons having been used. The situation was confused with deliberation to accommodate air strikes. Just when this rumour began to acquire wings, appeared from within the ranks of an otherwise supine United Nations, one Carla del Ponte, member of the UN panel investigating the conflict in Syria. She threw a monkey wrench right into the heart of all the chemical weapons propaganda.

She said there were “strong, concrete suspicions” that Syrian rebels had used poison gas. When the plot boomeranged, a shiver went up and down many spines. White House spokesman, Jay Carney, introduced a delightful bit of ambiguity: “We are highly skeptical of any suggestion that the opposition used chemical weapons.” But he banished skepticism in the next observation: “We think it highly likely that the Assad regime was responsible…….” This is one White House attitude and Kerry’s in Moscow quit another. Which one do we believe? No condemnation of use of chemical weapons? Such global indifference?

Diplomatic grapevine has been abuzz with President Barack Obama’s telephonic exchange with President Putin urging the Russian leader to restrain Damascus from any retaliation which would cause the region from spiraling out of control. The UN has been told that Syria had the right to retaliate but it would choose its own moment. Damascus has already declared it can no longer restrain Palestinian Resistance along Israel borders on the Golan Heights.

Kerry-Lavrov duet has, after months of stalled co-operation, announced an International Conference, possibly by the end of May, to bring the civil war to a close and pave the way for a peaceful settlement. The question that will plague the conveners of the conference will be: how to create a coherent delegation out of 148 disjointed groups.

Assad will be able to put together his representation at the conference quite easily. This contrast will cause deep consternation in Congressional circles in the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, UK, France and, quite undisputedly after the recent air strikes, in Israel. After the airstrikes, Israel is very much in the frame.

The idea clearly is for Washington and Moscow to be armed with a positive document on Syria at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland on June 17 to 18.

On current showing, there is no coherence between the White House and the State Department even on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. Place the US Congress, Pentagon, CIA in this calculus, and parties arrayed behind the Syrian opposition have enough time, upto mid June, to wreck whatever architecture Kerry may have in mind for the G8 summiteers to consider. Who knows, the arch wrecker may be within that August body itself.

Remember, Iranian Presidential election results will be out on June 14, by which time Riyadh, Doha, Ankara and Tel Aviv will have worked themselves into a frenzy about their red-hot Syrian project taking a disastrous route to peace. Are Obama and Kerry strong enough to withstand pressure from the rest of the Washington establishment plus Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, more tepidly, Turkey.

Incidentally, the establishment does have a handful of peaceniks and they can be certified. With us in Damascus two years ago was a senior US ex Ambassador to several Arab countries – Ed Peck. In those days, US ambassador in Syria, Robert Stephen Ford, with his French counterpart in tow, was driving from Dera to Homs to Hama, presumably stoking a popular rebellion.

Peck shared with a friend his personal impressions of Americans in Damascus: “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.” Well, here is potential support for Kerry in his peace seeking incarnation. But on what the future portends, I shall reserve judgement atleast until the summit in Northern Ireland. I am even willing to wait until the Obama – Putin summit in Moscow in September possibly before the UN General Assembly session.

After Ben Ali in Tunis and Hosni Mubarak in Cairo became casualties of the so called Arab Spring, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia emerged from convalescence in Europe and, along with the Emir of Qatar, took charge. They rented NATO for the Libyan action and coaxed Washington and Europe to help stoke internal conflict in Syria. This column had argued then why Assad would not fall. Well, he is not about to fall quite yet. But Riyadh and Qatar have been encouraged to invest too much in the conflict to call back the dogs of war. They have nothing to show as a trophy except a destroyed nation. They face a greater existential crisis today than they did in February 2011. A looming spectre of peace in Syria will cause them to beat their breast and throw a ginger fit on the other side of the presidential desk right inside the Oval office.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Does Intemperate Hysteria Guarantee Viewership

Does Intemperate Hysteria Guarantee Viewership

                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

I was in Lucknow when Sarabjit Singh died in Lahore.

My purpose in visiting the city of my childhood was to address a much milder agenda: to attend a seminar organized by the local Urdu Media Guild on May Day or International Workers’ Day. Since May Day this year coincided with celebration of Prophet Mohammad’s daughter Fatima Zehra’s birthday, the organizers made this coincidence the theme of the seminar.

Trust Lucknow to have preserved in its nooks and corners, here and there, a little bit of the cultural togetherness which was once the dominant feature of its social attractions.

Despite all my efforts at accommodating change, I have often despaired at standards of political demonstration organized, for example by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati against each other. Mulayam Singh’s was “dhikkar” (damn) rally some years ago, which Mayawati reciprocated with a “thu, thu” (spit on you) rally.

That is why it was such a relief to be at the seminar searching for common ground between workers’ Day and dignity of labour enunciated by founders of Islam. Earliest Islam had itself attempted to build on a “respect for the poor” available in the Bible, even though the likes of Bernard Shaw aptly rebutted romanticization of poverty: “modern poverty is not the poverty that was blest in the Sermon on the Mount”.

There was, however, no ambiguity in the minds of the organizers. The seminar dwelt on the example set by the prophet and his daughter in maintaining an exemplary simplicity in their own lives. Even though Fatima’s mother, Khadija, was one of the richest women in Arabia, Fatima worked out a unique division of labour with Fizza who shared her household chores: they rested on alternate days. Daily chores in those days included grinding grain for dough.

In these days of growing intolerance, citing parts of history from the religious domain could well be misunderstood but not in some enlightened arenas of Lucknow. Among those who held forth on the theme were former High Court Judge Pradeep Kant and former Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University Dr. Roop Rekha Verma among a host of others.

What I found particularly enchanting was the poetry on the family of the Prophet, linking it to Workers Day. This was composed and recited by Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”. An Urdu poet with a name like Mishra still reaching across religious boundaries? I rubbed my eyes with disbelief. Sad to reflect, how Sanjay Mishra “Shauq’s” literary ancestors from Chunni Lal Dilgir in the 19th century right upto Krishen Behari “Noor” only decades ago, writing on themes of the Prophet and Karbala, have become part of our collective amnesia. Abdul Rahim Khane Khana, Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Qazi Nazrul Islam have, in our minds likewise, been separated from compositions on Lord Rama, Krishna, Shiva and Shakti.

The next morning, just when my mother, now 94, brother and others in the family were talking about the previous evening’s seminar, I received a message on my mobile from a friend in Delhi: “switch on the TV because Sarabjit Singh has died”.

We looked at each other with sadness, ofcourse, but it was tinged with a sense of foreboding. We did not have to exchange a word to realize that the same thought crossed our minds when the TV came alive in a menacing sort of way. The anchor with angry, threatening faces in the five windows on the screen, demanded action, sought vengeance and generally mobilized political leaders on an ultra hardline platform towards an indefinable end. Were they inducing a societal, nervous breakdown for TRP ratings?

Political leaders on the eve of a make-or-break election, out of touch with the people, are liable to mistake a noisy media for public opinion. Therefore, on cue, came BJP President, Rajnath Singh. “We should call back our High Commissioner from Islamabad” he thundered. Not to be left behind, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decried Pakistani leaders for not having listened to “our pleas” to save the “brave son of India”. No one thought of placing in perspective a simple fact: Sarabjit’s conviction and sentence are a twenty three year old story. It has been invested with so much media attention only recently.

Into this generally torrid atmosphere jumps Yasin Malik demanding the remains of Afzal Guru hanged and buried in Tihar jail. He is taken into “preventive custody”, even as agitations gather momentum in New Delhi and Punjab against the court verdict on the 1984 anti Sikh riots.

To take the sting out of this agitation which cannot but have a potent anti Congress thrust, Amrinder Singh, former Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, raises the pitch: Sarabjit’s death is “officially decreed, cold blooded murder” by Pakistan.

In the midst of this singular lack of balance does Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”, come across as escapism? Are there others like him ploughing a lonely furrow in their enclaves, who deserve to be identified and linked to a bigger grid?

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