Friday, February 7, 2020

Illiberal, Identity Politics, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Galloping In Tandem

Illiberal, Identity Politics, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Galloping In Tandem
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Was Shylock victim or villain? The question never arose when Geoffrey Kendal came to school in the 50s and 60s to perform Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice was a great favourite because it appealed to us at several levels. There was the continuing suspense on whether or not Shylock, Jewish money lender, would be able to exact the pound of flesh he had meanly inserted in the agreement, should the needy merchant, Antonio, fail to pay back the loan.

A pound of flesh closest to the heart was Shylock’s revenge: he had been insulted by the Christians; he had had his “Jewish gabardine” publicly spat upon. But Shylock’s grief reaches epic proportions when Christians inflict a nasty bit of “Love Jihad” on him: his daughter Jessica runs away with Lorenzo, a Christian. Worse, she runs away with his “ducats”, the currency those days. “O’ my daughter; O’ my ducats”. I cannot remember a courtroom with such nail biting suspense when Portia saves Antonio from Shylock’s blade.

Anti-Semitism, from much before Elizabethan times, remained a sentiment in two powerful strands. One was the direct Christian prejudice against Jews in Europe which climaxed with Hitler in Germany. The Islamic conquest of Spain in the 8th century led to the flourishing of a composite culture in which Muslims, Christians and Jews contributed in equal measure. The Reconquista or the return of Christian rule in 1478 led to the Spanish Inquisitions which were harsher on Jews than on Muslims.

The basic conflict, whether in Northern Europe or in the Iberian Peninsula, was always between Christianity and Judaism, not the least because Christians blamed Jews for Christ’s death. What has puzzled me always is the deafening Jewish-Muslim acrimony. I shall never forget the day in the Royal Palace in Rabat, Morocco when I found myself seated in the office of Andre Azoulay, the late King Hasan’s principal adviser. He was the second most powerful man in the Kingdom. He was a Sephardic Jew like so many others in the country who held key posts. A mandatory annual event was the jamboree hosted by His Majesty for Sephardic Jews in the diaspora. This sentimental reunion was a continuation of a medieval tradition. When 50,000 Jews were expelled from Spain after the Reconquista, Morocco and other North African states had accorded the new “refugees”, extraordinary hospitality. Even after Jews from this part of the world had made their homes in Israel, they remembered how well Morocco had treated them. I have seen photographs of King Hasan dominate Sephardic drawing rooms in Jerusalem.

By the 80s the Jewish state and the international Jewry had become so powerful that even “reworking” Shakespeare became a legitimate intervention. Rather than discard the Merchant of Venice and select anyone of Shakespeare’s plays in 1989, Director Sir Peter Hall chose to tweak Shakespeare and impart rationalism to Shylock’s character. Dustin Hoffman virtually reimagined Shylock, toning down his usurious rate of interest, thereby enhancing the sympathy factor for the money lender. A sort of Christian ganging up against a hapless “professional” was played up. Shylock’s tragic end is ironically the heart of the play’s mirth.

The toning down of the Shakespearean prejudice against Jews was clearly a function of guilt on account of the excesses during the second war. The remarkable rise in anti-Semitism in recent decades by comparison leaves one aghast. Sympathy for Jews has given place to an awe for the Jewish state. The exceptional achievements of Jewish people will always shine through but individuals are being submerged in unwholesome Zionist excesses.

These excesses are being amplified by Donald Trump’s singularly one sided support for anything Benjamin Netanyahu demands. The general projection of both as heartless bullies automatically accelerates anti-Semitism. Take the Deal of the Century: only the duet and their closest groups were ecstatic. There will be a corresponding spike in ill will.

Do you think American campuses are falling over each other in adoration for Trump and his Buddy – after he signed an Executive Order aimed at combating anti-Semitism on college campuses.

“This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the federal dollars you get each year, you must reject anti-Semitism.” What must students do to become good boys entitled to federal funds? Abandon “Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement” which has been popular on campuses.

Jewish lobbies in Poland, for example, were bringing to bear their considerable clout on property transactions. Properties owned by Jews before the war were being successfully reclaimed by the old owners at throw away prices. When a Polish law sought to prevent these transactions, the State Department intervened. Officials in Washington would keep a watchful eye to protect Jewish interests. Imagine how Poles would respond to such interference.

Rise of anti-migrant, anti-Semitic leaders in Hungary, Germany, Austria, Poland, is a depressing list. By their behaviour the Trump-Netanyahu duet have only aggravated the situation.

At an international conference in Warsaw last year, Israeli Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz accused the Polish leadership of anti-Semitism. His language was unbelievably coarse: “Poles suckle anti-Semitism from their mother’s milk.” How would this outburst have registered with Primetime TV viewers in Poland?

An undercurrent of anti-Semitism remains unnoticed because the global media is more willingly focused on Islamophobia. Is under reporting of anti-Semitic incidents a deterrent? The very first question Trump’s first press conference was by Jake Turx, newly minted White House correspondent for Ami magazine, an orthodox Jewish publication from Brooklyn. The question was on the recent surge of hate crimes against Jews. Trump completely misunderstood the question. He thought the young reporter was accusing the new President of anti-Semitism. Some tongue lashing followed. A startled Jake Turx sought to mollify Trump.

“You have Jewish grandchildren. You are their Zayed (Yiddish for grandfather).” The mist may have lifted that day, but Turx’s publication from that day is a useful guide to burgeoning anti-Semitism, of which the vicious knife attack in Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah celebrations last December has been among the minor incidents.

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Friday, January 31, 2020

Shootout At Jamia An Aberration: Movement Much Bigger

Shootout At Jamia An Aberration: Movement Much Bigger
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

“Haqeeqat-e-Abadi” or the eternal truth of the nationwide protests will only be energized by the “Police Zindabad” shouting country pistol shooter who fired into a protest outside Jamia Millia Islamia, not far from the peaceful Shaheen Bagh that I had left behind just an hour ago. A row of policemen, arms folded, or leaning on their lathis must have been disappointed by the pistol-man’s poor marksmanship. He hit a student on his wrist. But expected TV channels went to town, which was the purpose.

Away from this nasty distraction (which only shows up the present regime for what is) a much bigger reality is unfolding, on an epic scale: the entire Indian opposition is being by-passed by the biggest protests since independence led by women, students and youth, ostensibly against the CAA, NRC and NPR but, as they gather momentum, the whole establishment.

History will record the Jamia Millia as the point of ignition for this avalanche which, in a sense, completes a circle. Three brilliant students, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Dr. Abid Hussain and Prof. Mohammad Mujeeb, met in Germany and decided to join Jamia Millia to enlarge the reservoir of Enlightened, Progressive Muslims in the national movements. In today’s BJP parlance they would be called the “tukde-tukde gang” or “urban naxals”. It would have been difficult to foist “Pakistan” on them because that country had not been formed then. In fact, opposition to the two-nation theory was an article of faith with this batch.

In that enlightened stream were Anwar Jamal Kidwai and Shahid Mehdi. Prof. Mushirul Hasan had seen the worst of Jamia as its pro Vice Chancellor, when he was beaten up by university goons linked to a Congress leader who was riled over Mushir’s stand on banning books. Rajiv Gandhi had banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Mushir’s position was that books should be challenged, ignored but not banned. There must be something good in the system that Arjun Singh, as HRD Minister gave Mushir (by now elevated as Vice Chancellor) more freedom than any Vice Chancellor since has ever had. The result was a mushroom growth of Centres named after unlikely figures: Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Mir Anis Hall and Mir Taqi Mir hall, M F Hussain Art Gallery and so on. Who knows, the movement may put fresh life into all of this.

Mushir explained his Left trajectory in terms of Jamia’s origins as an institution of the enlightened against colonialism and Imperialism. Bringing about course corrections on that count (as has been attempted) ran the risk of being sucked into communal and identity politics. Peoples issue are overlooked. This is the dilemma of today’s liberals face: they cannot give up on capitalism (therefore Imperialism) even in its post globalization, post 2008 avatar. They often find themselves standing with the powerful establishments which redirect popular resentment against inequality, for instance, towards issues of immigration, ethnic identities. So you have Viktor Orban in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK and kindred souls elsewhere including Jair Bolsonaro, the Pinochet copycat in Brazil. Since Narendra Modi hand picked him to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade, it must be assumed that Modi probably nurses him as a model. This lot is clearly what the protests are arrayed against.

The eager-beavers looking for a suitable and urgent outcome have not noticed that the movement has already altered the scene. A movement that can provoke stalwarts of the BJP into such glorious absurdities, deserves a trophy. Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad. “Shaheen Bagh protest is offering a platform to tukde-tukde ganga. Delhi should have no place for such people.” Parvesh Sahib Singh, BJP MLA in Delhi, has gone one better. “What happened in Kashmir with Kashmiri pundits could happen in Delhi also. Lakhs of people enter Shaheen Bagh. They will enter houses, rape and kill our sisters and daughters.”

He sends a shiver down the spine with his threat. “If the BJP comes to power on February 11, you will not find a single protester within an hour. And within a month we will not spare a single mosque built on government land…..”

Anurag Thakur, minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs, is even more inspiring: “Desh ke ghaddaron ko” (enemies of the nation) he exhorts, the crowd. On cue come the response “goli maro saalon ko” (shoot the bastards). This goes on for minutes. If a peaceful nationwide movement can drive the BJP to such reckless intemperance, it has clearly achieved a great deal. Above all, this shaky behaviour has been aggravated by the protests coming so soon after reversals in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and, God forbid, Delhi too? Amit Shah will not give up on his incantation of “revenge” politics easily.

Another great achievement of the protests has been the secularization of the Muslim ghetto. The docile, homebound Muslim woman has for the first time being seen in her public avatar, articulate, dignified, involved. The hijab and the bindi are mingling – an elegant sight.

This is not a simple phenomena. It is not without a sociological readjustment within the family and community. Across communities, it has promoted a new bonhomie. Batla House, Jamia Nagar and Jama Masjid are that much more accessible because sheer exposure of different communities in a common cause has helped remove cobwebs of an uninstitutionalized apartheid.

The opposition will never be in a position to take advantage so long as its national parties hold onto their respective obsessions – the Congress urge to revive nationally and the Communist urge to revive in Bengal. These aspirations will remain road blocks. Yes, Sonia Gandhi may be able to sing a nicer swan song if she could somehow revive the spirit of 2004 when the Left was not an anathema. That plus a commitment to federalism will work. Soft Saffron has no future.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Reflection On Partition As Government Opens Wounds On Citizenship

Reflection On Partition As Government Opens Wounds On Citizenship
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Since the word “Partition” has figured in the discourse on CAA, NCR, NPR the mind turns towards Maulana Azad, who was so fiercely opposed to the country’s division. By a coincidence, next month, February 22, happens to be the 61st death anniversary of Maulana Azad. Exactly 30 years after that date those 30 precious pages of “India Wins Freedom” were taken out of the National Archives which the Maulana had kept away so that all his contemporaries were not around to face embarrassment from the exposures, if any, contained in those pages.

And there were embarrassments galore. The Intelligentsia and the ruling class was disinclined to give much credence to what the Maulana wrote. The absence of debate after the publication of the “complete” edition of “India Wins Freedom” in 1988 was deafening. Nor were threads picked up subsequently in the interest of history. For instance the Maulana’s assertion that, towards, the end of the negotiations with the British, Sardar Patel appeared to be more convinced of the two-nation theory than Jinnah, deserves to be noted. Rebut it, if need be. To avoid the brutalities which followed the announcement of the Partition plan, an idea was mooted to keep the British Army united.

As a temporary measure, it seemed a sensible idea. But to the Maulana’s surprise, most adamantly opposed to a United Army “even for a day” was the arch pacifist Rajendra Prasad. His opposition was conditioned by a fear that a United Army would remain an “unfinished” business of Partition. And who knows how long this “unfinished business” would linger. What if a United Army becomes a pressure point for reversing Partition? The eagerness to hold onto Partition is manifest in the behaviour of a long list of leaders. The Maulana describes in detail how Sardar Patel had convinced even Mahatma Gandhi that Partition was the best course under the circumstances.

Just as it is today, Assam was the key state in focus in 1946-47. The crucial role it is playing today in the CAA, NRC discourse is not surprising. Fired by sub nationalism and cultural pride, Chief Minister Gopinath Bordoloi enlisted Mahatma Gandhi’s support in rejecting the Cabinet Mission proposal yoking Assam with Bengal in what was described as zone C in the Mission’s plan. The country was to be stabilized under groups: A, B and C.

The Cabinet Mission’s was the last effort to keep India united. It was endorsed by the Congress on July 7, 1946. But two surprising events made Partition inevitable. One was Assam’s firm rejection of being grouped with Bengal. It feared then as it does now, of being inundated with migration. Second was the new Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru’s fateful press conference in Mumbai on July 10. Nehru declared that all that had been agreed with the Cabinet Mission and Jinnah, would have to be ratified by a constituent assembly. This stipulation was not in the agreement. Little wonder Jinnah picked up the marbles and walked out of the game. Partition became inevitable.

The Maulana’s opposition to Partition was absolute. He was eloquent about the cultural commerce of over 1,100 years which he always described as his heritage. “We handed over our wealth to her (Bharat) and she unlocked for us the door of her own riches.” He was unambiguous: “Partition would be unadulterated Hindu Raj.” In the light of experience, was he wrong? Was Partition the Congress’s gift to the Hindu right? A Muslim country next door to be hated in perpetuity. An unresolved problem of Muslim majority Kashmir. A 200 million Muslim population – a lethal mix for dedicated Hindu Rashtra Bhakts – all under the canopy of global Islamophobia.

If Pakistan was so much against the interests of Muslims themselves as the Maulana never tired of saying, why should such a large section of Indian Muslims be swept away by its lure? The Maulana’s response to this query was unique:
“The answer is to be found in the attitude of certain communal extremists among the Hindus. When the Muslim League began to speak of Pakistan, they (Hindus) began to read into the scheme a sinister pan Islamic conspiracy. They opposed the idea out of the fear that it foreshadowed a combination of Indian Muslims with trans-Indian Muslim states. This fierce opposition acted as an incentive to the adherents of the League. With simple though untenable logic, they argued that if Hindus were so opposed to Pakistan, surely, it must be of benefit to Muslims. Reason was impossible in an atmosphere of emotional frenzy thus created.” Is the ogre of three Muslim majority states a continuation of the line the Maulana had spotted 75 years ago?

He was convinced that the “chapter of communal differences was a transient phase of Indian Life.” “Differences would persist just as opposition among political parties will continue but, it will be based not on religion but on economic and political issues.”

Nehru’s last interview with Arnold Michaelis in May, 1964, shortly before his death is revealing. First, he dismisses Jinnah almost as a non entity in the freedom struggle. “He was not in the fight for freedom.” In fact the Muslim League was set up by the British to “Divide us”. He said he, like Gandhiji and others, were opposed to Partition. “Then why did you accept Partition?” Michaelis asks. Nehru’s reply is cryptic.

“I decided it was better to part than to have constant trouble.” The trouble Nehru refers to was clearly the continuous bickering between the Congress and Muslim League in the interim government of 1946. Obviously Nehru was exasperated by the apparent incompatibilities in the interim government. While giving vent to his exasperation, did India’s first Prime Minister spare a thought for the minorities, primarily Muslims, 200 million at current reckoning who were riveted on him as their leader. Maulana Azad spelt out exactly what their fate would be. And surprising though it is, the Maulana was nowhere near Nehru’s charismatic hold on a community which learnt only in retrospect that they had been let down by the leader they adored.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

New Idea Of India: Secularism Of Common Aspirations Takes Shape

New Idea Of India: Secularism Of Common Aspirations Takes Shape
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

“Majrooh uthi hai mauje saba
Aasaar liye toofanon ke
Har qatra-e-shabnam bun jaaye
Ek mauj-e-rawan, kuchh door naheen”
(The morning breeze is deceptive; it is actually a storm in the making.
Who knows, even dew drops will acquire the power of torrents.)

Make allowance for poetic license, but the mood that the protest movement against CAA, NRC, NPR has maintained this past month would have thrilled the stalwarts of the Progressive Writers’ Movement of which Majrooh Sultanpuri and Faiz Ahmad Faiz were key figures. In fact Faiz’s poem “Hum Dekhenge”, has clearly become the movement’s signature song. By singing the Kannada version at the Bengaluru Town Hall, M.D. Pallavi may well have inaugurated a trend in cultural commerce. Faiz in Maithili, Bhojpuri has percolated down to villages and hamlets.

Since the movement has kept political parties at a distance, it is becoming possible for diverse elements of civil society to embrace it. Even the most conservative groups have accorded hospitality to Faiz. The dominant song at a social event of High Court judges, which I attended was “Hum Dekhenge”. No movement on this scale has so spontaneously spread across the length and breadth of the country.

That the unprovoked police attack on students huddled over their books at the Jamia Library ignited the agitation is common knowledge. How the videography and transmission of live visuals of the brutality disturbed the nation has a small story attached to it. It was entirely the imagination of Anwar Jamal Kidwai who, as Vice Chancellor, inaugurated the Institute of Mass Communications at Jamia in 1982. Bollywood, theatre, Doordarshan and countless of channels were all manned substantially by students trained at Jamia.

Since the Institute of Mass Com is the university’s flagship, students across the campus are familiar with its students and, by association, with videography. This explains the high quality footage of the events of Jamia which fired the nation’s imagination.

There has always existed a shade of uninstitutionalized apartheid, a wariness in visiting colonies and ghettos across communal lines. Every year during Ramadan I face, not resistance, but a lazy reluctance from friends to visit Jama Masjid to share the festive atmosphere. I have so far failed. For one “sehri” or the meal at dawn after which the fasting begins, I personally ferried Swami Agnivesh and Lord Meghnad Desai.

At the other end of New Delhi, the image of Batla House near Jamia has been sketched on our minds by the electronic media as a combat zone where encounters take place. To correct that image, visit the nearby Shaheen Bagh today.

Breaking down the apartheid of the mind has been a singular achievement of the televised nationwide protests led by students and youth. Another stereotype the protests have shattered is an image of cloistered Indian women, those in hijab and the ones in more cosmopolitan gear. Indeed, a heartwarming fact has been the leadership provided by women – articulate, dignified and focused. Standing upright for the National anthem mornings and evenings at Shaheen Bagh, and reading the preamble to the constitution like they had erstwhile read a religious texts all of this is exhilarating, particularly after a depressing 2019.

The secularism this movement promises has on its visage a refreshing sincerity, compared to the stale, withered tokenism of recent decades. The secularism of a common struggle and aspirations is what India’s first war of independence had set into motion in 1857. With the British in control, the freedom movement never quite rediscovered that élan. Post Partition, a pall hung over the practice of secularism – a situation promoted and exploited by politicians. The current youth movement transcends gender, community, caste and language. It is defined by its simplicity, absence of pretense, and hypocrisy. It stands out like a lotus in a pond of murky politics.

The lotus must retain its pristine purity. The movement must remain aloof from the discredited political formations. Only then will it gather momentum. The critical mass will then grow. The movement’s demands, because they are honest, have already caused politicians to ponder. Look, how protection of democracy and the Constitution have become the centre piece of all discourse.

Since all social and economic strata are joining the movement, a resounding call for social justice is unlikely to invite a caste/class backlash. The movement will have to be sensitive to that call. Sectarian nationalism will have to slowly give way to what Tilak and Maulana Hasrat Mohani meant by “Swaraj” which embodied a notion of “sovereignty” which had a powerful anti imperial thrust. Since the initial tussle has been with a formation committed to a unitary system, the idea of federalism will automatically creep into a renewed idea of India as protests grow.

The Sangh Parivar must be baffled by the upsurge. The RSS-BJP combine completely mixed up religious fervour with communalism. Religious fervour was mollified once the Supreme Court permitted the construction of the Ram temple. In a sense, the bird that laid the saffron egg was dead.

The Modi-Shah duet are under all sorts of pressure. The Congress Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel has, in an interview to NDTV, set the cat among the pigeons: the contradictory statements on, say, the NRC are a function of a growing divide between Modi and Shah, he says. Uddhav Thackeray, meanwhile, has compared, police action in JNU and Jamia with the November 25, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. The BJP will, ofcourse, extract comfort from the opposition disarray. A coherent opposition is only possible if the Congress house ever acquires some order. This can only happen if the party leadership takes courage in its hands and holds elections to all key posts. A fixation on the Gandhi parivar will remain a huge road block to opposition unity. The opposition, sandwiched between a weakening BJP and a growing youth movement, will seek salvation in the regions. Federalism will be strengthened, which is just as well.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

After Soleimani: The Cost-Benefit For US, Israel, Saudi And Iran
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

When Donald Trump did not take even arch ally, the UK, into confidence when Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani was murdered, how prepared the US would have been for an expanded military engagement? The Iranian missile attacks on a range of US bases are a straightforward retaliation: bases from where attack on Soleimani was launched have been targeted. The conflict so far has been contained.

Ofcourse, the US is in readiness. Already, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is being readied, which will pose a few questions for New Delhi, exactly of the nature that Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar faced during Operation Desert Storm. Chandra Shekhar allowed US bombers to refuel on their way to Iraq.

Even as the post cold war world transited to the post 9/11 Islamophobia, New Delhi, by choice and circumstance, held firmly onto American coat tails, even putting up with an insult or two. Pakistan, and not India, was first incorporated into the global war on terror. US Ambassador Robert Blackwill was terse: “Your’s is an old regional quarrel with Pakistan; that country is partnering us in our global war on terror.” Only after December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, did New Delhi become a bonafide “victim of terror”. It was a strange triangle: New Delhi and Islamabad were not on talking terms, but both were yoked in the US led war on terror.

This was the state of play when in April 2003, George W Bush was pushed into occupying Iraq by his neo-con drum beaters sketching designs of “full spectrum dominance” in the New American century. It was all very tempting when the Americans invited New Delhi to be their partners in Iraq which was now “theirs”. A section of South Block was having orgasms at the prospect. India was being invited to be an occupying power in Iraq’s Kurdish north. Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister put his foot down: it was a foolish idea.

The real author of the Iraq expedition, Vice President Dick Cheney choreographed his victory speech on April 9, 2003 to synchronize with the pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue at Baghdad’s Palestine Square. The celebrating Iraqis did not appear.

In desperation, Americans contacted Shia clerics like Muqtada Sadr. The cleric was an iconic figure in a Shia ghetto north of Baghdad named Saddam city. Muqtada Sadr it was who mobilized Shia’s to come out in celebration, beating Saddam’s photographs with chappals even as the marines pulled down the statue with cranes. In deference to this act, the occupying power renamed Saddam city as Sadr city.

This is how intimate the US’s relations have been with the mercurial cleric from the beginning of the occupation. These relations have fluctuated from mutual dependence to total hostility. A nationalist to the bones, Sadr would welcome help from someone like Qassem Soleimani but would be uncomfortable if Soleimani’s Iranian charisma overwhelmed his.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi was someone Defence Secretary Mark Esper consulted half an hour before the assassination. “I advised him against the decision” Mahdi revealed. But “half an hour” in the circumstances, was eternity. He could have alerted Soleimani’s convoy. Why did he not?

In the convoy was also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the Deputy Head of Hashd al Shaabi, or Iraq’s popular mobilization, which has the sanction of Grand Ayatullah Ali Sistani in Najaf. It reflect on American caprice that in 2005 Sistani was a figure of adoration in the US establishment. In March of that year Thomas Friedman of the New York Times had proposed the Nobel Peace Prize for Sistani in his column titled “A Nobel for Sistani”.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was clearly Soleimani’s eyes and ears in Iraq. But he was only the second in command of the Hashd. Where was the leader of the Hashd, Falih al Fayyadh? Last month he had made a surprise visit to Washington to meet Defence Secretary Esper, the very same person who alerted Prime Minister Mahdi about the action which killed Soleimani, Muhandis and a host of others.

The information obtained by Esper directly may have encouraged him to believe that the anti American line up in Iraq was a divided house. Even Muqtada Sadr’s visit to Riyadh some months ago would have been taken into this calculus.

The consequence is that the assassination-in-a hurry has united even disparate forces in Iran, Iraq and the larger West Asia. It left Europe dazed, Britain embarrassed and the rest of the world wondering as to what would happens next. The only country to have expressed support for the action is Israel. And Israel is on notice by the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. An attack on Hezbollah from any of the players, in the region or beyond, would be an invitation to Hezbollah to retaliate “massively” on Israel.

Incidentally, New Delhi has been in interaction with Falih al Fayyadh. He arranged for the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis to be affiliated with al Nahran Centre for Strategic Studies in Baghdad. Studies by IDSA will surely augment the pool South Block will require to shape a consistent policy.

Soleimani caused extreme discomfort to the US, Israel, Saudi combine not because he was plotting military actions. He was hated because by knitting together powerful proxies on the periphery of Israel and Saudi Arabia he had defeated the strategic faultline invented by US-Israeli strategists. Palestinian issue had lost salience gloated the new theorists. Sunni Shia was the new strategic faultline. With the inauguration of the Kuala Lampur summit of Islamic countries, and the winning lineup in West Asia, US and its allies look increasingly cornered and isolated. In this Soleimani had a decisive role as he did in defeating ISIS much to the chagrin of those who had begun to see terror groups as an asset to be relocated from one theatre of conflict to the other.

Once the dust settles, Soleimani in his death will be seen to have achieved something he strove for: US departure from Iraq. A US field commander’s letter leaked to Reuters suggests plans for an exit strategy.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

Soleimani’s Murder: It Is Building Upto A Terrible Crescendo In West Asia
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

The assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani by US airstrikes in Iraq, brings West Asia nearer the precipice. By this action, President Trump, who cannot get out of Afghanistan, has got himself deeper into the West Asian Quagmire. Americans know power and strategy. They don’t understand a quantity called the people. This gap in their make up has been their undoing in every outing since Vietnam.

Soleimani was the author of growing Iranian influence in the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In Iraq, he was supported by Hashd al Shaabi and Kataib Hezbullah. Their leaders were iconic figures too. Soleimani was a regional hero in not only helping defeat Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusra, but also placing the US, Israeli, Saudi combine on the defensive. He did this by building local forces in all the countries under his influence. He had paid special attention to Iraq, particularly after the appearance of the Islamic State in Mosul in 2014, from where it began to hurtle down towards Baghdad with the explicit purpose of affecting regime change in the Iraqi capital. This, in effect, meant the removal of Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki whom the Americans labeled as a “fundamentalist” who was augmenting Shia influence in Iraq at the expense of Sunnis who, though a minority, wielded great influence as Saddam Hussain’s Ba’athist Revolutionary Guards, Army, Intelligence and bureaucracy.

After the occupation of Iraq by the US in April 2003, a section of the Americans toyed with the idea of pampering the Ba’athists into supporting the occupation. But Iraqi “operators” (call them leaders if you must) like Ahmed Chalabi, close to the Dick Cheney-Donald Rumsfeld, neo cons, persuaded them to another course – that of disbanding the Ba’athist structure lock-stock-barrel. This was honeyed music to the clergy in Najaf. Chalabi became extremely close to the group around Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Please note, Cheney’s advisers becoming the eyes and ears of the Najaf clergy.

The first US representative, Paul Bremer became the succour who removed every Ba’athist from every nook and corner of the administration. The result was unspeakable chaos which neither the Americans nor the weak governments in Baghdad have been able to control to this day.

Many of the Iraqi Ba’athists moved to Syria where their Ba’athist cousins welcomed them. The CIA not only sought them out but also nursed them. When Nouri al Maliki flexed his muscles and refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011, the US sulked out. Iraqi Ba’athists in Syria, looking for work and plotting plots, came in handy as the backbone of what came to be known as the Islamic State.

How does an outfit, which hides in trenches, war ravaged houses, produce a smart news website called Amaq. It frequently produces a glossy magazine too. A terror group, on the run, with such facilities at its command?

Hints on Daesh’s origins have been available from the very beginning. When it hurtled towards Baghdad in convoys of brand new Humvees, its soldiers in new uniforms, helpers in Nike shoes, every Arab ambassador, except for those representing the GCC Sheikhdoms, was on record that Daesh was an American creation. When CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov if he suspected the US hand in the terrorism till, he answered in the affirmative. President Barack Obama, in the course of a 2014 interview with the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman, all but accepted that Daesh was an asset. Asked why he did not bomb Daesh when it first reared its head in Mosul, Obama replied that immediate air strikes would have taken the pressure off Nouri al Maliki. In other words, the Daesh was not bombed out of existence, because it was required to exert pressure on the Shia Prime Ministers whom the US hated.

Why, Trump himself told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he was convinced that Obama and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for wasting millions of dollars in helping set up terror groups in Syria and Iraq. I can never forget the face of Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, in a distinctly lower mould, virtually in tears while being grilled by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on the state of play in Syria. Carter admitted that a $500 million dollar project to train militants had been withdrawn because those trained had passed on lethal equipment to other militants and left for heaven knows where.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s allegation cannot be easily dismissed: the US was taking revenge against Iraqi militia Hashd al Shaabi “because they played a key role in defeating Daesh”. Khamenei has consistently maintained that the US had “created and nurtured Daesh”.

Indeed, Khamenei told a Friday prayer congregation in Tehran in 2018 that Daesh groups were being flown to northern Afghanistan. Earlier that month Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich told a high powered seminar in New Delhi that militants were being flown from Syria to Afghanistan. “Only Americans and the Afghan government controls the country’s air space”, he said rhetorically.

Iraq is something of an obsession with the US establishment because it has not been able to extract advantage consistent with nearly 15 year old occupation and investment in blood and treasure.

Matters have been building upto a crescendo eversince the Iraqis opened the land route to Syria which gives Iran a clear passage via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. This adds to the way an officer like Soleimani was able to turn the tables on Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh who thought the Shia-Sunni faultline would work to their advantage. Quite the opposite has happened.

Déjà vu – some would say. On December 17, 1998 President Clinton had launched attacks on Iraq. That impeachment vote was delayed. Are Trump’s circumstances similar?

American air strikes against bases of Iraqi militias invited a peoples’ invasion of the US embassy. What will be the retaliation to Soleimani’s murder? Only time will tell.

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