Friday, October 27, 2017

Migrant Jihadis: ISIS Freed From Raqqa, In Search Of Endless Battles

Migrant Jihadis: ISIS Freed From Raqqa, In Search Of Endless Battles
                                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

The final shoot out in the old Wild West movies has the camera dwell on the blaze engulfing the Sherrif’s office. The Sherrif leads the charge into the saloon where the bad men lounge around.

If this analogy is to be applied to the final blow up taking place in West Asia, particularly since the Russians entered Syria in 2015 to help fight “terrorist outfits” like Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda, ISIS and so on, the script will have to be expanded on an epic scale, focused not on one saloon but on a series of them, serving clusters of homesteads. Kobane, Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs, Palmyra, Mosul, Raqqa, Kirkuk….

I can set the scene for the script having travelled to Homs, Hama, Daraa at the outset when US ambassador Stephen Ford was promoting democracy, meeting insurgents. It was an open road show.

Americans had said at the very outset of their involvement in Syria that they would not have boots on the ground. The Russians had indicated no such squeamishness. In other words, Russians would have a ringside seat on American’s messy involvement with Nusra here or Al Qaeda there. These gangs were instantly transformed into freedom fighters whenever there was need. Simply put, terrorists fighting Assad were freedom fighters, worthy of support in training with lethal weapons. But Assad fighting terrorists was foul: he was a thug, thwarting democracy. Heads I win; tails you lose. Ofcourse there must be excesses committed by Assad, like us in Kashmir, but the larger context dwarves these.

If you find my tone at a variance from what you have seen and read on Syria, do please watch Congressional hearings with Army Commanders managing the Syrian show. Not to be missed is the hapless Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, admitting before a full press corps how a $500 million program to train Syrians had to be abandoned because the trainees handed their weapons to Jabhat al Nusra and found safe passage to few know where.

The mad pursuit for a New Middle East, repeatedly thwarted, keeps resurfacing, hydra-like. The driving force behind the neo con dream has metastasized into all sorts of outlandish and frightful scenarios.

Has the strategic community forgotten founder of Blackwater, Eric Prince’s idea of “governing” Afghanistan exactly as the British governed India in early 20th century under a “Viceroy”. Yes, the written proposal was under active consideration of the President of the United States last summer, with his adviser Steve Bannon grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of Afghan raw materials funneled suitably into Trump’s “America first” receptacle. Read the Atlantic magazine on that theme. The deal was almost done.

Never mind if they were not allowed to reinvent the British empire in Afghanistan. The world’s biggest provider of mercenary fighting units, controls other fiefdoms. They are part of the core group advising the Abu Dhabi ruler. Thanks to Blackwater, Latin American soldiers are fighting for the Saudis in Yemen. How will countries like Colombia utilize their citizens trained and tested in combat when they return home? Bogota may not have the money to afford Blackwater, but surely Trump may find battle ready Colombians useful against a country on his hitlist: Venezuela.

The most sinister part of the post 9/11 wars inaugurated by the US in West Asia is their endlessness. This has become so particularly after the Afghan and Iraqi experience. The US learnt at great cost that troops in both theatres were inextricably bogged down in the quick sand. Wisdom dawned. Air power, missiles, drones would provide cover, if needed, to “indigenous” foot soldiers, armed to the teeth with fierce Jihadism and financed, well, by Saudi Arabia. Qatar, Turkey, the Emirates have all had their hand in this till.

In its first, experimental stage this Jihadism was able to push back Soviet power from Afghanistan in 1989. The carelessness with which the US turned its back on this high voltage takfirism was stunning. US strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski’s terse comment was typical: “We were focused on bringing down the Soviet Union; we were not worried about some stirred up Muslims.”

These “stirred up” Muslims boomeranged in Kashmir, Cairo, Algiers. Post 9/11 wars, with Jihadist foot soldiers, has left a rich crop of Jihadists in platoon and company strength.

Robert Fisk, authoritative journalist on west Asia, has a telling piece in The Independent: “ISIS has lost Raqqa so where will its fighters head to next?” the Syrian Democratic Forces, mostly Kurdish, backed by the Americans, were supposed to be fighting the IS.

What has actually happened is mind boggling. US air power has flattened Raqqa on the scale of Dresden in World War II. But, by Fisk’s testimony, 275 IS fighters have been freed to go where they like. Deir ez-Zzor is one destination. But they can be relocated far afield to unsettle any targeted society with a Muslim minority.

The Moscow initiative on Afghanistan had anticipated some of this. When China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and eventually even India and several Central Asian countries met in Moscow last April, the main item on the agenda was that Taleban, being an Afghan National entity, should be incorporated in Kabul’s power structure. The move would isolate IS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates and thus prevent them from unsettling countries in the region.

The Moscow initiative came after Trump’s announcement: he would drastically scale down in Afghanistan. But, true to form, Trump changed his mind. He is now embarked on an open ended involvement in Afghanistan with all accompanying dangers. In the name of fighting the IS, Afghanistan may end up becoming a hatchery for multiples of IS and Al Qaedas. The Mujahideen will have come full circle.

Has Islamic militancy increased since the global war on terror was launched? An honest answer will place this piece in perspective.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Is Hindu Rashtra Unnecessary? India Became Hindu Raj in 1947

Is Hindu Rashtra Unnecessary? India Became Hindu Raj in 1947
                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

How indistinguishable the Congress ideologically is from the BJP was the theme of the main edit page article written by French scholars Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers in the Indian Express on October 5.

The editor grasped the heart of the matter and gave it an apt headline: Congress and the BJP, “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”. The Jaffrelot-Verniers duet have, for their laboratory, focused on Gujarat – on how principal leaders have swung from one side to the other, repeatedly, like trapeze artistes in a circus.

I suspect this is the beginning of a wider research because the Tweedledum-Tweedledee image is applicable to all regions wherever there is some Congress presence. In most places it looks like the BJP’s B team, and has conceded spaces to it for that very reason.

In recent decades there have been two distinct postures the Congress has struck towards the BJP. In Madhya Pradesh, under the leadership of Arjun Singh and Digvijay Singh, the party has taken the BJP head on. There was no other force to combat.

In Kerala, particularly under K. Karunakaran’s chief ministership, the party turned to the Sangh Parivar, whenever help was required for electoral battle with the Left Front. In fact Karunakaran was a master at ambidextrous politics. On one occasion in Kozhikode he maneuvered the Congress, BJP and Muslim League on the same side to defeat CPM’s T.K. Hamza.

What has been the result of the Congress grappling with Hindutva in Bhopal or flirting with it in Thiruvanthapauram?

State and district level Muslim congress leaders I met last week in Indore, Dhar and Mandu painted a dismal picture of their circumstance. Their party’s high command in New Delhi or Bhopal took them for granted. “TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor applies to us” Mohammad Kamran, youth Congress leader lamented. When a Muslim majority village was gutted, no “senior” (for which read “Hindu”) congress leader turned up to inquire.

Circumstances in Rajasthan are similar. When 10 Muslims were shot dead by policemen in Gopalgarh in 2011, an hour’s drive from Delhi, neither Rahul Gandhi nor Home Minister, P. Chidambaram considered it worth their while to visit despite several delegations imploring them to do so. This was the first instance in the country of police firing inside a mosque.

In Kerala, the frequent Congress dependence on sectarian groups has had the effect of slowly opening the door just enough for Hindutva forces to make a bid for replacing the Congress. That this process has been slow is attributable to the state’s distinct and enlightened social structure.

This did not deter Karunakaran from his efforts to “Brahminize” Rajiv Gandhi who, in his perception, would not graduate from the ranks of the “Baba log” without persistent “ang pradarshan” or ritual prayers at the Krishna temple in Guruvayur. Whether Rajiv transited to becoming a Brahmin or even a Hindu is less than clear. What is certain is that he developed a taste for Guruvayur’s famous rice and milk pudding, payasam, large quantities of which were made available for his extended family’s New Year celebrations at Lakshadweep islands.

Rajiv Gandhi’s unprecedented victory in the December 1984 elections (404 seats in House of 514) was interpreted as Hindu consolidation in response to minority communalism which had resulted in Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Even the party, treasurer, Sitaram Kesari, non communal to his finger tips, interpreted the mandate in majoritarian terms.

In 1986, V.N. Gadgil, among the more enlightened General Secretaries of the Congress, told me in great confidence: “the feeling is widespread among Hindus, that Muslims were being appeased.”

This thinking guided subsequent Congress actions, making it just as indistinguishable from the BJP as Jeffrelot and Verniers found it in Gujarat. How “appeased” the Muslims were became clear in the Sachar Committee report on their social-economic conditions during sixty years of Congress rule. They had, in their social status, tumbled below the lowest Dalits.

Ranganath Misra Commission’s recommendations to help Muslims out of the plight described by Sachar Committee, was placed on the shelf where it gathers dust to this day.

Srikrishna Commission which named politicians directly involved in Mumbai riots of 1992-93 in which 900 people (majority of them Muslims) were killed and their shops and houses gutted, has remained secret.

It would require amnesia of a very high order to heap all the credit for the brazen saffronization at Naendra Modi’s door. It would require magic or miracle to have advanced the Hindutva cause with such rapidity in three years. Frankly, the ground has been prepared over the past 70 years.

We must not forget, the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad and elements in the Congress were quite “indistinguishable” one from the other all along.

The founder of the Hindu Mahasabha, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was a four time President of the Congress. His vision of India would not have been very different from that of the Banaras Hindu University which he founded.

Rajeshwar Dayal, the first Home Secretary of UP, in his memoirs, A Life of Our Times, mentions an astonishing story about Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, UP’s first Chief Minister and RSS supremo Guru Golwalkar. The RSS chief was found with a trunk load of incriminating evidence of extensive plans for communal violence in Western UP. The Chief Minister however enabled him to escape.

It all leads to the inescapable conclusion, argued in my book “Being The Other: The Muslim in India”. Having accepted Mountbatten’s June 3, 1947, plan for the Partition of India, Congress de facto accepted the Two-Nation theory while publicly arguing against it. Dissembling was essential to keep Kashmir. On August 15, 1947, India seamlessly glided from British Raj to Hindu Raj. It could have been named Hindustan (just as the other country was called Pakistan). With Hindu at the helm a more honest bargain on sharing power would have been possible. The painful process of a second distillation for a Hindu Rashtra could have been avoided.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Globalization Of Terror: Syrian Intelligence Sheds Light On Rohingya Exodus

Globalization Of Terror: Syrian Intelligence Sheds Light On Rohingya Exodus
                                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Evidence of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state since the 7th century is not accompanied by a narrative of harmony with the Buddhist majority in Burma (Myanmar) throughout this period. But since the 1970-80, increased repression, economic deprivation, denial of citizenship rights could possibly be because of the reverberations following the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Saudi Arabia, particularly shaken by the emerging, bipolarity in the Muslim world, took the lead in drumming up an anti Shia hysteria. Riyadh had an interest in diverting the world’s attention towards Iran because a much bigger danger had reared its head within Saudi society. An anti monarchy, radical, Islamic group had occupied Islam’s most important mosque in Mecca for weeks almost at the same time as the Iranian revolution. Saudi needed to create Wahabi enclaves wherever they could.

This brief background is essential to understand antecedents to the current exodus of 4,00,000 Rohingyas.

There is a twist to the Rohingya tale, particularly the unprecedented military crackdown in August resulting in the refugee crisis. A source for this narrative has been the unlikely figure of Grand Mufti Ahmed Bader Eddin Mohammad Adib Hassoun, Syria’s highest religious authority on a visit to India last week.

The Mufti deserves to be introduced.

If conversation is the art of hearing and of being heard, one half of that dictum is totally ignored by this cleric, donning the grandest headgear. Seated at the head of a long dining table, his speech is an unstoppable torrent. In this instance, it serves a purpose: it enables the guests to relish, with dedication, a multi course feast, something which has gone out of fashion from the current relatively frugal, diplomatic fare.

Scattered throughout the Mufti’s elaborate exposition are nuggets of information. If these are “plants”, why would New Delhi accord hospitality to a cleric at a fairly high level? He met Home Minister, Rajnath Singh. The office of the National Security Adviser gave him quality time, as did Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti and several others. Clearly, the Mufti is well briefed on the post conflict mopping up operation in various parts of Syria. There is priceless intelligence scattered all around.

Americans no longer deny that they have from time to time fallen back on militants or terrorist groups as tactical assets. In an interview to Christiane Amanpour, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov made exactly that allegation and Amanpur would not risk a counter allegation, even a question. Heaven knows what beans Lavrov might spill on live TV.

Since the Mufti’s visit, a disturbing piece of information circulating in some circles concerns the Rohingyas. It makes their plight even more tragic. According to this narrative the present crisis was precipitated from outside.

The story begins in 2012 when Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Ambassador to the US (nicknamed Bandar Bush because of his friendship with George W. Bush), who had then been given the “Syrian portfolio” by the late King Abdullah, invited a Rohingya named Hafiz Taha, to his office in Riyadh.

Taha was given the task to develop “Islamist sleeper cells” in Rakhine. The idea was twofold: to promote Islamism of the Wahabi variety among a people who were otherwise inclined towards a folksy form of Sufism. The second purpose was to sow seeds of long term conflict in a country abutting China’s Kunming (Yunnan). There is some anxiety in the West that parts of Mandalay are increasingly Chinese dominated.

In her study on the Rohingyas for the Council on Foreign Relations, Eleanor Albert’s version tallies with the Mufti’s narrative on how the trouble started in Rakhine in August. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army “claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts.” Is it any surprise that the government declared ARSA a terrorist organization? It was then that the military mounted a “brutal campaign that destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages and forced more than five hundred thousand Rohingya to leave Myanmar, approximately half of the Rohingya population out of the country.”

Military brutality never seen in history was then unleashed: security forces allegedly opened fire on fleeing civilians and planted land mines near the border crossings used by the Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.

A long simmering conflict, intensifying over the past decade, was custom made for outsiders to ignite and cause an explosion. This precisely is what appears to have been precipitated in Rakhine state two months ago. “But why would sleeping cells be activated now?”

US Intelligence agencies learnt a lesson from turning their back on Afghan militants after they had helped expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989. This reservoir of lethal Islam, found work for itself in Kashmir, Egypt, Algeria and so on. Since the genie could not be put back in the bottle, Saudis, under western supervision, began to refine Islamic terror as an exportable asset.

Much of the cloak and dagger US operations became public either at Senate hearings on the Hill or through diplomatic leaks. After all, nothing could be hidden from the Russians in Syria because they had boots on the ground.

In the Syrian whodunit, Americans have actually been admitting their mistakes with endearing docility. Remember Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, his face distinctly in the lower mould, being grilled by a congressional committee, then by the media, for the clumsiness of US Special Operations in Syria? The “moderates” they were training left their weapons with the Al-Nusra Front and sought safe passage. Carter announced, on live cameras, that a $500 million training programme had been discontinued.

Remember Gen. Lloyd Austin admitting to the Armed Services Committee of the Senate that “only four or five” fighters trained by the Americans were “in the fight.”

In an interview to Thomas Friedman of the New York Time in 2015, President Barack Obama admitted that he had not bombed ISI when it first reared its head because “that would have relieved pressure on Iraq’s Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki” whose departure, and not ISI’s elimination, was a US priority.

The cake for flaunting terrorism as an asset goes to Bandar bin Sultan who promised a “terrorism free Sochi Olympics” in February 2014 to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin if only the Russians helped him show Bashar al Assad the door out of Damascus.

The plight of those in the Rohingya exodus is even more heart breaking because they have no hint of the Kafkian script which has maliciously affiliated then with the externally financed Rohingya Salvation Army, a group they know nothing about.

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