Friday, June 28, 2019

High-tech US Drone Shot Down By Iranian Technology Causes Concern

High-tech US Drone Shot Down By Iranian Technology Causes Concern
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

If folks in rural UP knew anything about Donald Trump, they would describe him as “chatur Bawraha” or “cunning crackpot”. Extreme caution would be in order dealing with such a form of life.

If one has nerves of steel like the Iranian leadership, it is a different matter altogether.

The depth of CIA involvement with Iran, cooperative and adversarial, is not matched by the US equation with any country except Israel and, perhaps, Pakistan during the beginning of the Cold War. Close cooperation between the Savak, Mossad and the CIA is well known during the Shah’s rule. Relations plummeted when the Islamic Revolution captured power in 1979. Never in history had such a comprehensive siege been laid to a thriving US embassy. The siege lasted 444 days.

Unbelievable though it may seem, but within five years Iran, US and Israel were in an intricate cloak and dagger operation called the Iran-Contra affair. US-Israeli arms would be sold to Iran. The proceeds from the deal would finance the Contras being helped by the US to oust the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. For the record, the Communist Daniel Ortega is still in harness.

It is interesting to study the contrasting attitudes of the US establishment then and now when the Deep State is pushing comparable clandestine operations in different theatres. During the Nicaragua operations, CIA Director William Casey, ordered the mining of Central American ports without informing Congress. Senator Barry Goldwater, as chairman of the select committee on Intelligence, rapped Casey hard on the knuckles. He wrote: “All this past week I have been trying to figure out how I can most easily tell you my feelings about the discovery of the President having approved mining of some of the harbours of Central America. It gets down to one, little, simple phrase: I am pissed off!”

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as Deputy Chairman of the committee, took an even more dim view. He called it the CIA’s assault on constitutional government. What would he say about the Deep State’s unprecedented preeminence today?

Compare the Nicaragua operation to the mess in the Strait of Hormuz these past weeks. Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif piles accusations on the Trump administration for trying to trigger a war by false flag operations. These operations targeted Japanese tankers. This happened so soon after Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe’s visit to Teheran as to be almost laughable. In his tweet Zarif communicated to the White House that the Iranians had accumulated all intercepts about the Deep State’s frenetic efforts to purchase speed boats to attack tankers in order to pin the blame on Iran. In one instance “Trump’s B team was moments away from trapping Donald Trump into war”, reveals Zarif.

What the Iranians have done to the US’s most advanced surveillance drone, Global Hawk, when it crossed into their air space on June 20, is the stuff that legends are made of. The high tech equipment, worth about $223 million was actually brought down by an indigenously assembled Iranian drone which cost Tehran barely $2,600 per piece.

The lazy assumption that the technologies in the Iranian arsenal must trace their origins to allies Russia and China is wrong. The truth is that Beijing and Moscow are as surprised at Tehran’s technological advance as the rest of the world is.

Indeed, Trump could not resist thanking Tehran for having spared a US aircraft ferrying 39 “terrorists” to heaven knows where. The “terrorists” in question are actually soldiers. The term “terrorists” is Iranian tit for tat, a reciprocal insult because Trump had designated Iranian National Guard as “terrorist”.

The story of the manned US plane which flew in close proximity to the fateful drone is interesting for another reason. After the drone was shot down, Iranian Air Force connected with the second aircraft carrying 39 US soldiers. It issued a simple instruction: “turn back immediately or meet the same fate as the drone.” This gesture, as mentioned earlier was appreciated by Trump.

Given these exchanges, is war with Iran on the horizon? Trump’s almost daily threats echo King Lear in the final stages of his madness. “I will do such things – what they are, yet I know not but they shall be the terrors of the earth.”

Let us, for the sake of amusement list a few. Remember when Trump was stoking the fires to soften Kim Jong-un? He announced a “flotilla was on its way to the sea of Japan to teach the “rocketman”, a lesson. It transpired that the Flotilla in question was sailing towards Australia. “with Mr. Trump himself playing up the show of force” said a Pentagon official “rolling back the story became difficult”.

Remember how Trump had plucked out from the skies Juan Guaido as a replacement for President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela? This totally arbitrary decision had the support of a dozen European countries. Today, Mister Guaido is something of a laughing stock presumably plotting coups on some secure beach.

Was Trump’s first policy decision not to pull back all troops from Afghanistan? Even the frenetic movements of special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad between Doha, Kabul, Islamabad appear to have slowed down.

A theory of terrorism as an asset, inaugurated in Afghanistan to oust the Soviet’s, employed in Syria for a failed effort at regime change, is being polished. Russians and Iranians have already accused the US of ferrying groups like Jabhat al Nusra, under new labels, to destinations like northern Afghanistan.

The alacrity with which Tehran has provided evidence that the drone which was shot down took off from a base in the UAE, surprised the Americans. Indeed, the UAE ambassador to Tehran was given an earful by the Foreign office.

Meanwhile, Iran’s arch regional rival, Saudi Arabia, is fighting the Houthis of Yemen now on its own territory. The Saudi air base of Najran in the South is in Houthi control. In these circumstances, show me the macho leader feeling muscular enough to plunge headlong into war? Note Zarif’s terse warning: he who starts the war shall not finish it.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

India – Pakistan ODI: Notes From Days When Cricket Wasn’t War

India – Pakistan ODI: Notes From Days When Cricket Wasn’t War
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

This Sunday, 16 June, I look forward to being seated with friends in an arc around the TV set, ready to exult at the outcome of the Indo-Pak ODI at the Old Trafford in Manchester. But two friends who have surprised me with their adoption of saffron, will not just rejoice but clench their fists and grind their teeth in an expression which is a little more visceral. Their’s will not be the slow hand clap. In victory I am with them, sometimes ahead of them, it is when I see triumphalism that I feel weak in the pit of my stomach.

Much water has flown down the Irwell, in Manchester and the Gomti, in Lucknow where as an eager schoolboy, armed with an autograph book, I found myself in the player’s pavilion, thanks to a cousin who introduced me to Habul Mukherjee, the famous hockey coach, who supervised the construction of the cricket stadium. I was rewarded with “access” to the players’ pavilion for having accomplished the most challenging of tasks. I had to produce a wooden plank, painted white, with a legend in thick black: “Ladies Urinal”. Really, to what lengths an autograph hungry schoolboy will not go?

Difficult to believe, in today’s atmosphere, but the Pakistan team were a bigger draw, among Hindus and Muslims alike, largely because of a 16 year old batting prodigy, Hanif Mohammad. Students from Islamia College, not far from the Royal hotel where the team stayed, invaded the hotel’s lobby. They found to their horror that the Pakistanis they saw, were very different from the ones they expected. There, on the bar stool, was “Maxi” abbreviation for Maqsood Ahmad, holding a mug frothing over with beer.

On the cricket ground, I shall never forget the two bearded Maulanas, wearing caps of the same cloth as their respective Sherwanis, monitoring every ball through their antiquated army binoculars. Polly Umrigar missed a ball from Fazal Mahmood and wicket keeper Imtiaz Ahmad snapped it. The slip cordon appealed. “No” said the umpire emphatically. One agitated Maulana, turned to the other looking distinctly unhappy.

“Kilick to hua tha.” (I heard the click), he said to his friend. Safdar, one of the wits who were part of Lucknow’s elegant decadence, leaned over, touched the Maulana’s binoculars and asked loudly enough to send all those in the vicinity into peals of laughter.

“Maulana, ismein sunayii bhi deta hai?” (Maulana you can also hear through that binocular?)

Beer drinking Pakistanis registered with Islamia College students as something of a disappointment. The college catered to the lower end of the Muslim middle class. It dawned on me much later that defining the Muslim middle class in the twilight of the feudal order was not easy: elegant speech and manners went hand in hand with abject penury. With penury came religiosity.

As centres of culture, most people use a faulty balance to compare Lucknow and Lahore. Lucknow had begun to die as early as 1857 for their affront to the British. The great centre of culture paid a heavy price. The state’s High Court was set up in Allahabad as was UP’s premier university. Industry was dispatched to what the British called Cawnpore. Lucknow was left with Taluqdars who had made peace with the British. The population was gifted with the art of conversation which seemed quaint and out of place, given their impecunious living. The declining aristocracy held their libraries to their bosom but refrained from polo, tennis or cricket, almost in cultural defiance of the Raj.

Lahore derived its vigour upto 1947 from its “Punjabiat” (though a great centre of Urdu) and its high comfort level with the British. There was even a sartorial difference between the Sherwani clad Urdu poets of Awadh (Lucknow) and those of Lahore. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was the only prominent Urdu poet on the subcontinent who wore a jacket and tie. Unlike Lucknow, where poets and scribes drank furtively in the cubicles of China Bar and Restaurant, Lahore was more open with its bars which cricketers like “Maxi” frequented. That is why “Maxi” and one or two of his team mates were comfortable walking around Lucknow’s Royal hotel bar lounge with their beer mugs full to the brim.

Saffron spread in India very slowly; Islamization of Pakistan was more rapid. By the time the team with Imran Khan turned up in the 80s, the players were drinking whiskey with their glasses draped in white napkins to avoid detection. These days, ofcourse, they would probably be treated as alleged beef eaters are in the Indian cow belt.

Maqsood’s cameo knock in Lucknow, in October 1952 was one of three great ones etched on my mind, all played between Lucknow and Kanpur, circumscribed itinerary for a cricket crazy schoolboy in the 50s. Two batsmen were out when Maqsood walked to the middle and stroked the very first ball for four, bisecting point and cover, next between cover and extra cover. In his cameo of 40 odd runs he made a precise arc, bisecting fielders from point to square leg. The next knock was Rohan Kanhai’s in Kanpur in 1958. India and the West Indies had scored 222 each in the first inning. In the second innings, Polly Umrigar, in his unlikely avatar as opening bowler, caused an eerie silence to descend on Green Park. He removed Hunte and Holt for a duck. This is when Kanhai strode in: first ball driven for four, second cut past gully. In about 30 minutes he scored a pretty 44 and left, bringing Gary Sobers in, who proceeded to score 198. But it is Kanhai’s knock that I have kept as a gem.

The last brief knock on my nostalgia for cricket was a masterly 51 because of the circumstances. Off spinner Jasu Patel had taken 9 wickets on a pitch which Australian captain Richie Benaud described as a “mud heap” much to the annoyance of “vizzy”, Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram, commentator and patron of cricket. The great left handed batsman, Neil Harvey, provided an object lesson on how to jump out and hit at half volley before the ball turns.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Media Crawled During Emergency. Today Is Its Spine Straight?

Media Crawled During Emergency. Today Is Its Spine Straight?
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

It is not a complaint but rather a reflection on the general state of play: in my 50 years of journalism, Narendra Modi happens to be the only Prime Minister I have never met. Whenever I tried meeting him years ago I was directed to Vinay Sahasbudhe of the RSS. In his very polite way he was able to transmit the message: meetings with Modi were not going to be the order.

New Delhi, once the world’s favourite haunts for journalistic banter, could now be among the world’s least informed capitals. Newswise, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow became livelier. In the absence of information, anchors and journalists fell back on the tedium of speculating on the outcome of this by-election, that state election, gathbandhan or Mahagathbandhan, caste or communal and so on.

For the unending war, now in its 18th year in Afghanistan, show me one discussion on the electronic media. Or, for that matter, in print. Wait patiently until the Indian Express reproduces the main editorial of The Economist explaining the state of play in what is our backyard.

Afghanistan is not an exception. The once Hindu Kingdom of Nepal has been explained to us by BBC, CNN, New York Times, Reuters. The vibrant arenas for cockfights which pass for our news channels have no bureaus in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, Russia, the UK, US, nowhere. Just one formula:
Udhar raqeeb idhar hum bulay jaatey hain
Ki daana daal ke murghe laraye jaatey hain
(Me from this side, rival from the other
Toss some corn, and there begins the cockfight)

The Prime Minister in his very first speech in the Lok Sabha in May, 2014, had talked of ridding the country of “ghulami” or intellectual servitude. If the Prime Minister is as good as his word, he should immediately take note of this monopoly of the foreign media. Gandhiji was all for windows to be kept open so that influences from all sides can enter – and depart. The Prime Minister swears by nationalism; I call it self-esteem. Both are bruised if India’s ruling elite is captive to Anglo-American media only, in the coverage of International Affairs.

Despite the fact that Russia, China and Iran are not liberal democracies, all three have a large number of bureaus across the globe. They make effective interventions whenever the Western media slants the story against them. In the 2019 elections the world media went to town against “the Divider in Chief”. Did Modi’s cohorts ever think of challenging the affront? If they tried to they would discover that the world’s largest democracy does not have the means to reach audiences beyond its shores.

Modi’s experience with the media is limited. In his earliest stages his exposure was to a hostile media which implicated him in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. Later his core team with inputs from such groups as APCO, an international consultant, helped build brand Modi which did not need the media in its normal newsgathering and column writing avatar. The process of branding did not require him to dwell on the economy, which he knew was in a shambles. He was advised by his marketers to dwell on an “intangible” theme, which had emotive power. Pakistan was amplified as a hate object and publicly flogged at Balakot; Modi’s rhetoric served as the accompanying sound effect. “Ghar mein ghus ke mara” or “bash him in his house” is the language of gangsters but then even Robin Hood was an adorable outlaw.

Does Modi need the media at all? Ofcourse he does. The Modi project would be stillborn without the media, but he needs a “captive” media, not a “critical”, independent one.

This entails a two tier media policy. Modi will be exempt from media interrogation. He will make appearances calculated by his core team only to enhance his charisma and serve some critical purpose.

Where interaction with the media will be essential is, say, the Ministry of External Affairs. Otherwise unfiltered material will saturate the alternative space. Moreover being on talking terms with the media enhances a general sense of ventilation. Let me give an example of a seemingly innocuous story which served the national purpose in an unexpected way.

A Joint Secretary from the MEA, my Deep Throat, working with Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s team, accosted me outside his office and invited me to his room for coffee. His princely friends from Jaisalmer and Barmer had sent him photographs (which he showed me) of private jets from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE landing at air force runways. These luxury aircraft were lined with scores of hooded falcons and equipment for palatial tents to be erected in the desert.

The Shaikhs of Araby had identified the desert around Jaisalmer and Barmer as the world’s finest hunting ground for the Great Indian Bustard, the most handsome of birds. Environmentalists had seen a sharp drop in the bustard population. If falconry was not discontinued the bird would be extinct. Deep throat managed to obtain written orders to the district authorities in Rajasthan. The story appeared on page one. A senior MEA official travelled all the way to the Shaikh’s luxurious hunting ground. They were requested to pack up their tents. I had not realized the story would spread like forest fire. It gathered momentum as a national campaign. The Great Indian bustard was saved and all because of one conscientious objector. All nature lovers owe him a word of thanks. Just as the Deep Throat of Watergate was eventually revealed, I think there is no harm in revealing the savior of the Great Indian Bustard. He is an ailing man today. Infact, quite ironically, Deep Throat has lost his voice. His name is Vinod Grover, once our ambassador to Ankara, The Hague and Nairobi.

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