Friday, July 27, 2018

Afghanistan, Not India, Will Be Imran Khan’s Priority Until 2019

Afghanistan, Not India, Will Be Imran Khan’s Priority Until 2019
                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

Even before elections in Pakistan had taken place the media which articulates the western establishment point of view, like the Economist, had already declared it a “flawed election”; it even screamed “foul play” which the “khaki umpire” (for which read the Army) had rigged.

If you will stand for a mixed metaphor, the “khaki umpire” is, these days, playing the monkey between two cats – the US and China. With Donald Trump and his Deep State apparently engaged in a savage fight to the finish, the balance of advantage must be seen to be with China. But Chinese themselves are keeping their fingers on the China-Pak economic corridor. Imran Khan has expressed reservations on transparency issues. On the other hand, there have been reports that thousands of Pakistan students, who in the past would have been westward bound, have entered Chinese schools of learning. Who knows, this may be the thin end of the wedge.

If the Chinese can decolonize the Pakistani mind to this extent, it must be time for the West to take note. But a sketch that sections of the Army and Imran Khan might be innately anti west can be overdrawn. Yes, Pakistan has choices other than the US which includes Russia, but this does not mean the army will bite the hand that has fed it since its inception.

These are complex times and a durable phenomena like the “West” manifests itself in many forms. After all retired Pakistan armymen, like retirees elsewhere, do keep a steady gaze on post retirement sinecures. A huge opportunity beckons Pakistan retired army officers in Saudi Arabia with its insatiable appetite for a war without end against the Arab world’s poorest country – Yemen.

The new Prime Minister will be pragmatic. He will not seek to impose a moral code on his armed forces. But he will draw some very firm red lines and these red lines will stretch from Pakhtunkhwa right through Afghanistan, the arena of his political baptism and purgatory. That is where he cannot be seen to be striking deals. His political turf will turn to ash if he does.

He should not be seen in the traditional Pathan-Punjabi balance. The brunt of the blowback from the Afghan war was borne by the Pathan region, true, but it was a national catastrophe. Let me explain. Washington twisted Pervez Musharraf’s arm to turn upon those Mujahideen in Afghanistan whom Riyadh, Washington and Islamabad had reared to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The blowback from the Afghan war singed Pakistan. The Lal Masjid fiasco in Islamabad aggravated an uncontrollable situation. The reverberations from that blowback have not ended yet. Remember, the public outcry was against Musharraf fighting “America’s war” against terrorism. It became all the more shrill when the two brothers controlling Lal Masjid, Ghazi Rashid and Maulana Aziz, led the chorus.

Let me fast forward to the latest American debacle in Syria and its possible impact on the Af-Pak region. Ever since the Russians landed in Syria to fight terrorism, the US, Israel, Saudi bluff has been called. They armed and financed Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda and worse but their town criers amplified these rogue elements as the Free Syrian Army. When almost all the mercenary Islamists had been caught with their trousers down, the existential question arose: what to do with trained terrorists?

When animal lovers in Britain forced an end to the traditional foxhunt, the impulse reached India’s southern hill station of Ootacamund also. The same question arose: what to do with hundreds of pedigree hounds? Good sense dawned and the canines were kept in a deluxe kennel, then distributed among dog lovers. But what do the trainers do with terrorists, trained and tested in action, who have not only tasted blood but have begun to love it? Trained terrorists can only have one use: as assets against any Muslim society the “trainer” wishes to destabilize – Afghanistan, Xinxiang, the Caucasus and so on.

I can quote atleast two recent US Presidents to prove my point. In an interview to Thomas Friedman in August 2014, President Barack Obama made a startling admission. Asked why he had not ordered air attacks against the Islamic State, when it first reared its head, Obama said: “that would have taken the pressure off Nouri al Maliki”, Iraq’s stubbornly anti American, Shia Prime Minister. In other words, the IS advance from Mosul to Baghdad was facilitated to oust Nouri al Maliki, an outcome the US was excitedly waiting for. Maliki had to be punished for the affront of not signing the “Status of Forces agreement” with the US. Eventually Maliki was shown the door.

After having been briefed by the Intelligence Agencies, candidate Donald Trump told Jake Tapper of the CNN: “Where do you think have billions of dollars worth of arms – and cash – gone in the course of our involvement in Syria? To the extremists, ofcourse, I believe so.” He has not budged from this position.

What should worry Imran Khan is the next stage: the transfer of trained terrorists from Syria to Northern Afghanistan. Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei told a Friday congregation in Tehran on January 30. “The US transfer of IS terrorists to Afghanistan is aimed at creating a justification for its (US’s) continued presence in the region.” More recently, Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich told a high powered assembly at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi: “IS fighters were being flown to northern Afghanistan”. The Afghan air space is under the control of the US and the government in Kabul. “so who is responsible?” Vladimirovich asked.

Islamabad, Beijing, Moscow are all persuaded that Taleban will have to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. Americans have been marking time with the good Taleban, bad Taleban mantra because they clearly do not have a policy.

The moment is laden with irony for President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. The emergence of a Pathan in Islamabad should have provided him with comfort. Instead he is having kittens: the Pathan on the other side has an agenda which is totally at cross purposes with Ghani’s. Imran’s agenda would boost his popularity in the country where Ghani, alas, has none. The moral is simple: no sidekick to a foreign power has ever been respected at home.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

“Muslim” Meal On Air India To Protect Hindus From “Halal”

“Muslim” Meal On Air India To Protect Hindus From “Halal”
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

On an Air India flight from London the hostess walked down the aisle taking orders for dinner. She leaned over and asked almost conspiratorially.

“May I serve you your Muslim meal now?”

“Muslim meal?” I asked with a start, casting a glance at my equally puzzled wife.

The hostess was embarrassed. A new detail had been added to her hospitality protocol and she was not accustomed to it.

The damage, it turned out, had been done in my office. Responding to a column on dietary preferences, the person responsible for air reservation had hunted high and low for a simple non-vegetarian meal. No such meal was listed. Then he spotted “Muslim meal”. The explanatory paragraph clarified that “all non vegetarian meals are suitable for Muslims and are prepared in accordance with halal method.”

The journalist in me took over.

“Fair enough, you have identified us as Muslim, but surely there are others on the flight who are non vegetarians but not Muslim?”

Ofcourse, there are non vegetarians on Air India but they would not accept the odium of Muslim ancestry simply to indulge their dietary preference. They want to eat meat but as thoroughbred Hindus.

Two consequences follow. Obstacles in the way of non vegetarianism depresses the demand for non vegetarian food. By the same token Hindu passengers feel they are being short changed. This was reverse discrimination. They see themselves being pushed to the lower end of the culinary caste system. The demand for non-veg, therefore, gains in decibel levels: we want non veg, that’s for sure, but one which is neither “Muslim” nor “halal”.

A three way dietary division evolves: (1) Hindus not fussy about labels: “Muslim” or “halal” accept whatever is available. (2) Those for whom realization has been abrupt that what they have been eating for generations was “Muslim” – halal. Ignorance is bliss but not now that enlightenment has come riding on an Air India menu. (3) Simple vegetarians whose tribe, by the way, is growing by leaps and bounds in India as elsewhere face no problem whatsoever.

For the authors of the “Muslim meal” idea the first category is the most disruptive because it has skewed the process of data collection on how potentially vegetarian or otherwise, India is. This is the key research required for advancing the aspect of Hindutva concerned with promoting non Muslim dietary practices. If this category can stand its ground despite the disincentive of being called Muslims and halal eaters, this non veg constituency might just stabilize, even grow. God forbid, it may come in the way of full spectrum Hindutva, vegetarianism et al.

The second category is demanding a non vegetarian meal which is unsullied by Muslim-halal connotations. This is a new demand. This clientele does not quite know what it wants; it knows what it does not want in the non-veg arena. It has clearly asked the catering department of Air India a question which is not easy to answer: what non veg fare can you serve which is not Muslim-halal?”

Here the discussion acquires exactly the potential for which it was initiated – to polarize and, as a trial run, divide the aircraft cabin between vegetarians and non vegetarians who, the perpetrators hope, would not like to be grouped as halal-eating Muslims. The cabin is, in this instance, a microcosm of the meat-mukt India of Hindutva’s dreams.

A quick answer to halal is jhatka, the method of severing the animal’s head with one stroke, favoured by Sikhs. The jhatka-halal debate is custom made for an Arnab Goswami show. Have a devout Sikh, a muscular Mullah and a Bajrang Bali Bhakt, peer out of three windows. Extract all the gory details on jhatka and halal from the spokesmen of two distinct schools of slaughter. A possible walkout by the abstemious Bajrangi may well spur Hindu consolidation on an unprecedented scale.

On a more practical note, the “shosha” (mischief) started by AI can be put to some constructive use. A new approach to cuisine may involve drastic change: a non veg cuisine developed over centuries as a near art form may have to be jettisoned from official banquets and national carriers. The problem will, ofcourse, arise when lynch mobs on the lookout for a cause, enter restaurants advertising non veg fare. Individual non vegetarians may also incur the wrath of the lynch mobs. In fact a malicious rumour has been floated that the monkeys that have been let loose on Delhi’s citizenry are an animal loving Minister’s project directed against non-veg addicts. The monkeys, says the rumour, are being trained on the Ridge to block entry of meat into non veg kitchens. The producer of super hit Bajrangi Bhaijan, has threatened to go on hunger strike if the avatars of Bajrang Bali are involved in operations which have anything, negative or positive, to do with meat

The hypocrisy around the cuisine at official banquets at Hyderabad House or even the Rashtrapti Bhawan until the other day, has always bordered on the pathetic. There was an insistence on tasteless fare called Mughlai food at a time when streets named after the dynasty were under assault. The banquets begin with a bogus “toast” of some flat cola. This then is a good time to take a hard look at the rampaging Vegan movement globally. Climate change, animal care, fear of artificially inflated livestock for the table is turning the world to organic, vegetarian food. Jeremy Corbyn, who may well be Britain’s Prime Minister one day, is a vegetarian.

The core idea of the Nouvelle cuisine Air India should be searching for (and not just creating communal trouble) was available in the “prasada” or “offering” cooked each day in gigantic vessels at the Dargah in Ajmer. The daily fare followed one golden principle: it should be acceptable to widest possible range of pilgrims. The “prasada” was free even of onion, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes or any vegetable which grows underground. This principle is followed in all major Hindu and Sikh places of worship. Somewhere here is the answer to Air India’s quest. To monitor strict vegetarianism in flight, a free ticket may be considered for a representative of the lynch mob on every Air India flight.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Croatia In World Cup: The Story Of Its Origin

Croatia In World Cup: The Story Of Its Origin
                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Croatia’s prominence in the football World Cup freshened memories of its origin in the war which expanded after German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher recognized Croatian and Slovenian independence, ahead of other EU countries which were palpitating because German reunification in 1989 had already added to their anxieties.

As the Persian expression goes “Ek na shud, do shud”. Before one source of anxiety could subside, another surfaced. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic headquartered in Zagreb’s magnificent Cathedral, marched off to the Vatican to seek the Pope’s and Italy’s support. This was promptly given. Some EU member countries began to have nightmares of the “Axis” being revived.

I was in the Cardinal’s office in the Cathedral which dominates Zagreb square, when the door of the ante room flung open and Father Juraj Jezerinac of the Topusko Parish walked in. I had been introduced to him at the earliest stages of the conflict in one of the livelier cafes in Zagreb square. He was full of stories. One night his orthodox Serb counterpart from the neighbouring Church compound came to him, looking very conspiratorial.

He had received word from the Orthodox headquarters in Belgrade that Orthodox Priests must lead all Serb populations out of Western Croatia in the Topusko area because the Serb army was preparing to attack the area and annex it as part of Greater Serbia. This was a scoop.

Was further proof required to confirm coordination between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches? They would put aside their intra Church conflicts and join hands against the Bosnian Muslims. The cruel irony was that Sarajevo, the centre of art, music, theatre, literature in former Yugoslavia was primarily a Bosnian Muslim city. Like Lucknow, Sarajevo went down, nursing art and culture, unable to cope with the assault of Philistinism.

At the outset when, some EU members suspected German and Italian encroachments, Britain and France came covertly on the side of Serbia which had been with them during World War II. Gen. Michael Rose, leading the UN Peacekeeping mission in Bosnia became a regular feature on global TV giving briefs on the Bosnian dead on a daily basis.

Nothing could have exceeded Serbian brutality than the four year long siege of Sarajevo. Graphic accounts of this siege, beamed mornings, afternoons, evenings to global audiences on a daily basis, decisively altered the political landscape in Turkey, a development of which the West remained totally oblivious.

Sarajevo derives from Caravan Sarai, pointing to the city’s Ottoman past. The effect of the Bosnian tragedy on the Turkish electorate brought to power Necmettin Erbakan of Refah party, akin to the Muslim Brotherhood. This was anathema to the upholders of Turkey’s secular Kemalist constitution. The Erbakan government was dismissed.

That is when two of Erbakan’s protégé, Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul reinvented themselves as the (AKP) justice and Development Party. The rest is recent history.

The siege of Sarajevo was graphically chronicled by a daily newspaper, Oslobodenje, which won global awards for its bravery. The paper’s office itself was an astounding sight. The offices and the press were in a huge basement, beneath the debris of a multistoreyed building brought down during the war. The editor, Kemal Kurspahic whom I had met at the last non aligned summit attended by Rajiv Gandhi in Belgrade, looked none the worse for his travails. But he had, nevertheless, developed a mark on his forehead. This happens when the forehead hits the ground for Namaz five times a day over months and years.
“Have you become a devout Muslim?” I asked.
“There is no alternative but God when the world abandons you.” There was conviction in his voice.
“Who helped you publish the paper in these circumstances?”
His reply stunned me.
“George Soros.”

Throughout the four year conflict Europe maintained a hands-off policy to avoid internal divisions within EU. Observers like Salman Rushdie described European restraint as hypocritical.

“You reverse the religious affiliations of the protagonists on the ground and not just NATO but even European forces would have entered the theatre immediately to end the bloodbath.” They refrained from intervention because Muslims were the victim.

Those of us involved in covering the conflict, knew that Rushdie, and others like him, were speaking the truth. But the mainstream narrative was fudged even on such crimes as the Srebrenica massacres in which 8,000 young Bosnian men were separated from their families and shot dead by Serb militias. Why did the Dutch Peace Keeping Forces move away from the site of the massacre?

The 78 day US bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war was designed to oust the Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Russians had been outmaneuvered by the western alliance in a theatre Moscow considered its pan Slavic sphere of influence. Therefore when the responsibility of various part of Kosovo was being distributed between countries of Europe, Russian armoured carriers barged into the area around Pristine airport uninvited. They are still in occupation of that airport. Britain, Germany, France control other segments of Kosovo, a tiny country dotted with exquisite monasteries. The great monastery of Decan in the care of the Italians where priests produce the world’s finest wines and schnapps.

Just as the sun sets, a young priest runs around the building carrying on his shoulder a giant rattle called the tallantone, alerting the inmates just in case the “Turk invader” has eyes on the “House of God”. This hostile mythology is sustained in many countries on the periphery of what was once the Ottoman Empire.

Considering that this World Cup has been a celebration of multiculturalism, how do I explain my being distracted into Balkan tribalism? How swiftly a nation of 4.5 million has made its mark, wrenching itself away from a recent and messy past. Supposing Sefik Ibrahimovic had not migrated from Bosnia to Sweden in 1977 where the great soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was born? Well, Zlatan could have claimed a slot in the Croatian team with considerable justification. His mother, Jurka Gravic, is after all a Croat. Remember, there was multiculturism in the Balkans too before sectarian tribalism was let loose.

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