Friday, November 28, 2014

Kashmir Outcome May Provide Mufti, Modi With A New Opening

Kashmir Outcome May Provide Mufti, Modi With A New Opening
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
Srinagar-New Delhi, India-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim are basically one complex of issues. That there is a symbiotic relationship between the three becomes apparent every now and then. But there is at policy levels an aversion to see the glaring reality.

Foreign Secretary level talks in Islamabad were cancelled because the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, consulted Kashmiri separatist leaders. The chill was carried over to Kathmandu. Here was the umpteenth instance of Kashmir casting a long shadow on Indo-Pak relations.

Is SAARC a realizable promise without this key triangle being resolved?

At the 1972 Simla Summit, Indira Gandhi returned 93,000 prisoners of war to Pakistan in expectation of some imaginary goodwill.

The Simla spirit did not prove to be a panacea for Indo-Pak mistrust and bitterness. Did Simla prove ineffective in the long run because a Kashmiri voice was not present at the Summit?

By the same logic, the Indira-Sheikh Abdullah pact of 1975 failed because Pakistan hovered like Banquo’s ghost but never had a seat at the table.

Who knows, change may be round the corner because the Modi government appears to be bringing into play a different kind of energy. Sooner or later, the BJP President Amit Shah’s electoral strategy of communal polarization as a means to Hindu consolidation must run into contradictions – most certainly in Kashmir.

Already, a lesson appears to have been learnt. In the state, the BJP is in something of a shock. A 71 per cent voter turnout in subzero temperatures in the 15 seats that went to the polls on November 25 is most extraordinary.

The BJP strategy to polarize the vote, then scatter the opposition appears to have been grasped by the electorate: heavy polling is evidence of a sort of counter polarization. It appears “dummy candidates”, set up to divide the vote, have been bypassed by the electorate. How else is one to interpret the highest ever voter turnout in defiance of the hardliner’s call to boycott elections?

BJP effort at communal polarization may have been taken to its extreme at, say, Zanskar in Ladakh. There has been a near total social boycott here of Muslims by the local Buddhists.

There has always been considerable scope to play one Muslim group against another. Indeed, even the Shias of Kargil have been divided. For instance, Anjuman e Islamia and the Imam Khomeini Trust have been in perpetual competition. But the scare that the Modi phenomenon has created, may well be affecting an unintended Muslim consolidation simply to block the Modi machine.

Another emotion driving these elections is a general disgust with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. It is tempting to see a similarity between the Gandhis nationally and the Abdullahs in the valley. Yes, they are both in abysmal decline and the Gandhis and the Abdullahs have little credibility left as leaders in the foreseeable future. But this is where the comparison ends. Minus the Abdullahs, the National Conference have a fairly impressive line up of leaders. For example General Secretary of the National Conference, Shaikh Nazir, has considerable credibility.

This precisely is the weakness in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party. It is short on credible candidates.

The BJP is going flat out to accomplish its “Mission 44”, which would give it a majority in a House of 87. Towards that end it has inducted RSS volunteers, primarily from UP. These “voter guides” have unintentionally spurred the non BJP voters to compose their differences primarily in favour of the PDP.

Communal rhetoric has been held back in the campaign so far. Even though RSS think tanks have been studying Article 370 and how the state can be freed from it, the issue has not become part of the BJP’s campaign. Is the powder being kept dry for the last phase of voting in Jammu where the muslim vote is ineffective?

If the BJP falls short of 44 seats, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will be the probable front runner. But the PDP may not be able to cross the halfway mark. Who will the Mufti then align with? A weakened Congress, unlikely to be anywhere near power in the foreseeable future, is hardly an attractive partner. Omar Abdullah’s National Conference is even less attractive.

A political opening for both the Mufti and Modi may open up. The critical triangle sketched at the opening of this piece may then require a deep, steady gaze by both.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Release Of Al Jazeera Journalists Will Confirm Regional Realignment

Release Of Al Jazeera Journalists Will Confirm Regional Realignment
                                                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

My crystal ball tells me that the three Al Jazeera journalists, incarcerated in Cairo for the past six months, are about to be released.

The three were part of Egypt’s most powerful news bureau during the brief spell of President Mohammad Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The US State department saw Morsi as a positive evolution from the Arab Spring. But later Washington changed its tune when crowds supporting Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came out on the streets against Morsi. These crowds also described President Barack Obama and US ambassador Anne Patterson as opponents of secular democracy.

The Emir of Qatar had consistently allowed his abiding antipathy towards the House of Saud to extend to the way Al Jazeera covered regional events. Clearly on his signal, Al Jazeera proceeded to report the truth during the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, exposing the Saudi-US collusion in both instances. Later when the US appeared to be initially endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo as a consequence of the Arab Spring, Qatar felt even more emboldened to join what looked like a winning consensus.

As in several instances of US policy, one hand appears not to have known what the other was doing. It did not register with some US policy makers, that the rise and consolidation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was anathema to its principal allies in the region – Riyadh and Jerusalem.

Riyadh has nightmares because Muslim Brotherhood is deeply political and anti monarchy. Little wonder, the Saudis placed twelve billion dollars in President Sisi’s hand the minute he ousted Morsi. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had earlier endorsed the switch in Cairo.

Israel too was deeply uncomfortable with the Brothers in Egypt having links with Hamas which was patronized by a Qatar flushed with petro dollars.

Al Jazeera was in clover so long as Morsi and Qatar were in silken dalliance. But as soon as Morsi was ousted, their journalists were incarcerated. They have been in jail for six months. President Sisi is too beholden to Riyadh and cannot be seen to be obliging a Saudi rival, the Emir of Qatar, by releasing journalists of a channel the Emir owns.

Why then is my crystal predicting that a release of the journalists is imminent? Because King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Shaikh Sabah al Sabah of Kuwait at the recent GCC summit in Riyadh exerted every muscle to bring Qatar back into the GCC fold. They went some lengths in that direction by holding the December summit in Doha to confer GCC chairmanship on Qatar. The release of the journalists will help end the Doha-Cairo chill.

This is bad news for Tayyip Erdogan whose interest in the Muslim Brotherhood is of another order. In fact his dilemma is acute. He works under the Ataturk Constitution where secularism is non negotiable. He can never openly embrace Muslim Brotherhood but after his Syria misadventure everyone knows he is of that persuasion.

The situation now is this. Saudis will leave no stone unturned to keep the Brothers from gaining influence anywhere. Erdogan has hitched his doubtful regional future to the Brotherhood. This he imagines gives him traction in Egypt, Gaza, Qatar and Jordan – both, in the street as well as in the basement.

This also brings him into Saudi Arabia’s firing line. Just as this Saudi-Turkish rivalry is boiling over, the Riyadh Summit of the GCC has approved a list of 83 terrorist organizations including some in the US which are allegedly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi are clearly trying to excavate along some faultlines in Washington. The idea is to mobilize opinion in the West against the Brothers.

Recently the British government was pressured by the GCC to crack down on British Muslim groups affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. London launched an official inquiry and found the Brothers have no links with terrorism. But, GCC will not give up easily. They will expect Jewish lobbies in the US also to work against the Brotherhood whose rise will upset the Fatah-Hamas equilibrium in Palestine.

Meanwhile, West Asia is on a roller coaster. The Al Aqsa mosque attacks could well lead to another Intefada. Secretary of State, John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are reportedly inching towards “outlines” of a settlement adding to Saudi anxieties.

In his latest statement, leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has directly asked his followers inside Saudi Arabia to “draw your swords” and cut off the head of the “serpent”, namely the Saudi leadership. And, not to spare Iran either. So it is all building up to a crescendo.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Can The Owaisi Brothers Give Their Politics A Non Sectarian Twist?

Can The Owaisi Brothers Give Their Politics A Non Sectarian Twist?
                                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

Unlike Aam Aadmi Party, which overestimated its potential after an outstanding debut in Delhi, Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen led by Asaduddin and Akbaruddin Owaisi is expanding cautiously.

During recent state elections in Maharashtra, they ventured outside the confines of Hyderabad. They made measured forays in 26 constituencies which were once part of the Nizam’s state. The experiment succeeded. They won two and in the remaining 24 they performed with honour intact.

This has caused raised eyebrows all around. Are they planning to expand? Will they contest the elections in Delhi? An editor from Srinagar asked: “why are they not helping a party in Kashmir they consider more honest than others?”

On being asked, they remain silent. This caution betrays long term planning.

They have, however, decided to take the plunge in UP where they are in the process of weaving a network. Their calculation is based on simple logic. The level of polarization the BJP was able to affect in the 2014 Parliamentary poll, when it won 73 of the 80 seats, cannot be repeated. The soufflé rises only once. This, because communal temperature cannot be kept at boiling point indefinitely. Whatever the degree of religious polarization the BJP achieves, the trick works only when there is simultaneous division of the Muslim vote. This is where the MIM enters the game.

The scattering of the Muslim vote is a function of the community’s helplessness. Muslims had a choice of three discredited parties – Samajwadi, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress.

The situation in Maharashtra during recent elections was similar. The choice offered to the minority was unappetizing – Congress or the NCP. The MIM provided the ventilator in the suffocating situation.

There is great irony in the fact that in the 67th year of India’s Partition, when the Nation is being invited to remember Jawaharlal Nehru on his 125th birth anniversary, the Indian Muslim has in desperation been forced to seek political solace in a party which has a religious denomination attached to its name.

There were few in India’s first cabinet whom Nehru admired more for their intellect and grace than Maulana Azad, whose 125th anniversary was observed (was it?) two years ago. These two stalwarts of the national movement would never have believed in their lifetime that an avowedly Muslim party would be considered for a role in North India. When the Congress embraced the Partition plan, Maulana Azad had repeatedly warned of this possibility. There is no evidence that Nehru ever did.

Whether the MIM will deliver or not is not the issue. The fact is that large sections of Muslims are looking at it for want of attractive options. The so called secular parties have ofcourse failed the world’s second largest Muslim population. But even more worrisome has been the role of the clergy which has taken upon itself the role of middleman, between the community and ruling class parties.

A classical example is Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid. The first to bestow a political halo on the Imam’s head were Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. The fashion caught on. I found myself addressing a packed hall of Imams of mosques who were demanding a greater political role for themselves. I have not forgiven the event manager who had conned me into this congregation.

The need for the clergy to function as political middlemen arose because of growing alienation between the communities. A system of uninstitutionalized apartheid required middlemen whom political parties could contact for the delivery of bulk muslim votes. The Mullah was the obvious choice.

During the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Samajwadi Party’s point of contact was Maulana Arshad Madani. His advice to the homeless riot victims was priceless: accept compensation from the state government along with the condition that riot victims would never return to their original villages.

What was the advantage of being internally displaced in perpetuity? The Maulana said: “This way our boys and girls would be shielded from the prosperous Jat boys.” In his book, the ghetto was the panacea of all social evil.

Surely, the MIM promises freedom from strict clerical supervision. But does it not perpetuate the ghetto? Will not the apartheid system derive strength from MIM politics?

The Owaisi brothers are creatures of their social circumstance. They grew up in old Hyderabad, in a family with memories of the Razakars, Deshmukhs and the harsh military action, details of which have only recently become available after the Pandit Sunderlal report was released.

They are both outstanding public speakers. Asaduddin, who studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, is the more sophisticated strategist. Akbaruddin can at times be a rabble rouser. It may have suited their politics in Hyderabad. But as they prepare to step out into the wide world they will, of their own accord, become more circumspect. They have already taken baby steps into non sectarian, temporal politics by fielding several Hindu candidates in Maharashtra. If they are to survive the rough and tumble of Indian politics they will have to transcend sectarian politics. The word “secular” has been so profaned by the politics of the last six decades that a quest for a synonym would be in order.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Nuclear Deal With Iran To Be Concluded In Oman Next Week?

Nuclear Deal With Iran To Be Concluded In Oman Next Week?
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

The picturesque Sultanate of Oman was all set to make history in the next few days. It was to be the venue where the West would conclude its nuclear deal with Iran. But recent control of both the Houses of Congress by Republicans has swelled, the ranks of anxious busy bodies darting around the world’s chanceries to sow doubts about the deal.

That an agreement was round the corner was known for weeks, even months. But the most recent tell-tale expression of the West’s intent appeared on the cover of The Economist last week. In the photograph of Ayatullah Khomeini that the magazine carries on its cover, the founder of the Islamic revolution’s marble face has cracked with age. From the crevices in the visage, doves of peace are flying in all directions. The photograph which represents both, symbolism and hyperbole, is mounted by a headline: The Revolution is Over.

This is the West’s pre emptive spin. In the West versus Iran confrontation, who blinked? First, ofcourse, are a host of very technical nuclear related issue which will set the region at rest about Iran’s military ambitions. But an agreement that could well be signed will, most importantly, carry an overriding political message.

The message on The Economist cover is straightforward. Iran has exhausted its revolutionary fervour and is now a status quo power. It has been transformed into a clubbable state. There are fears however that the new Republican dominated Congress will nevertheless insist on retaining stringent sanctions on Teheran even after an agreement has been reached. This could be a deal breaker.

If Republican clout in the US Congress retards progress on the nuclear track with Iran, misgivings about Washington’s ability to act on a host of issues will multiply. The reliability quotient of the West in general will further diminish.

Secretary of State, John Kerry was upbeat in Paris earlier in the week. “I want to get this done”, he told French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, a consistent friend of Israel. Should the Congress hardliners retard the deal at this late stage, Fabius will thumb his nose at Kerry – and the world at Obama.

As it is, there are deep suspicions in diplomatic circles about the overall American intentions in West Asia. Americans are in the region, says one Arab diplomat in ringing tones, because their faith is shaken in the Israeli capacity to control the region after the recent 50 day Gaza war. This dictates re organizing the West Asian chess board in which Iran must be brought in as a central player.

President emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former New York Times columnist and Senior Defence and State Department official, Leslie Gelb, wrote last month: “US leadership has since the Iranian revolution in 1979, singled out Iran as the locus of all evil”. In a dramatically changed situation, today, both Iran and the US, see the “Sunni jihadis who threaten the interest of both.”

The common cause that the US can make with Iran extends to other theatres of conflict – Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance. “The only serious conflict is over Israel”. Gelb does not see that as an insurmountable obstacle.

Traditionally, Iran and Israel have not been foes. Quite the contrary. “US strategy should be to use cooperation in other areas to ease Teheran’s hostility towards the Jewish state.”

This line of thinking is gaining widespread currency. And, it is not good news for Saudi Arabia.  But Riyadh should draw comfort from the fact that powerful factions in Teheran, like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, consider the present Saudi regime a much more acceptable proposition compared to what might follow if the present regime goes. In the cloak and dagger world of West Asian politics, a theory given credence to by all non GCC Arabs is precisely this: the regime in Riyadh is mortally afraid of the ISIS. There are two Sunni streams in the ISIS which are hostile to monarchies as being anti Islamic. These two schools are the Muslim Brothers and Al Qaeda.

With what alacrity did the Saudis turn up in Cairo with $12 billion check for the then General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi for having ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the emerging Muslim Brotherhood icon.

Equally revealing was the composition of the initial “coalition of the willing” against the ISIS – Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain. In other words the monarchies and the Sheikhdoms.

The ISIS push towards key cities in Syria and Iraq has been halted because of tacit US-Iran cooperation. Whatever the level of agitation in the Republican dominated Congress, steps in this direction are not likely to be reversed in a hurry.

Yes, a redistribution of power in West Asia is clearly on the cards. The Shia Houthis in Yemen, for instance, now in control of Sanaa, lean heavily on Iranian support. This ground reality will in all probability be allowed to prevail in the near future. Then there is the totally untenable situation in Bahrain where the King stands in opposition to 90 per cent of the population who happen to be Shia. In 2011, US diplomat Jeffrey Feltman had very nearly brought about a compromise between Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa and Shiekh Salman of the Shia Wefaq party. But Bahrain’s Prime Minister colluded with the hard line Saudi Interior Minister, the late Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz and GCC tanks rolled down the 37 kilometer causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Eastern province, where the country’s main reserves of oil coexist with a restive Shia population. It is getting so complicated for the Saudis, simultaneously facing a fierce succession struggle, that an honourable adjustment with Iran, possibly under US auspices, looks like the only sensible way out of the jam.

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