Friday, December 31, 2010

From “Adi” Shankara to “Adi” Vasi

From “Adi” Shankara to “Adi” Vasi
Saeed Naqvi

Funny, the mind should flit from Binayak Sen to Anthony Trollope? Trollope describes a conversation between two Tasmanians (if my memory does not fail me) in which one asks the other: if you see a native and a snake whom should you kill first? In a matter of fact way, the other replies: the question should not arise!

Those were days when the aborigines were hunted in hundreds for trophy. Let us not forget that Australia’s “whites only” policy continued until 1974.

In the Americas, natives experienced much worse. The intervention of the Church softened the pain: natives were shot to paradise after being duly baptized.

I appear to be digressing into these frightful stories because they are the very antithesis of the good work the remarkable medical doctor, Binayak Sen, has spent a lifetime doing among the tribals of Chattisgarh. But what about those elements of the state which seek life long incarceration for people like Sen? No genocide but “them” versus “us” exists, more so since “they” sit on resources required by “us” to sustain 11% growth. But did not “our” Home Minister suggest helicopter gunships last summer?

The amazingly imbalanced judgement on Binayak Sen handed down by the Chattisgarh court has some lessons for all. There has been from colonial times, reasonable co-ordination between the local courts and the police. This was in pursuance of the colonial purpose of keeping substantive laws for the administration of such justice as was necessary, and allowing procedural law (police lock up, for instance) to generate fear among people, whatever the eventual judgement.

The (A) that was added in 1870 to section 124 concerned sedition under which Mahatma Gandhi and such like figures were jailed for, say, six years. That was the colonial limit. But justice B.P.Verma obviously has his eyes set on posterity giving a record life imprisonment for a man who inspires universal admiration. Justice Verma is one of “us” trying to make an example of Binayak Sen, one of “us” collaborating with “them”. Basically, intellectuals are being put on notice. Don’t cross the Red Line otherwise this will be your fate. It would probably have been something of a deterrent in the confines of Chattisgarh. But His Lordship’s moffussil mind had not taken globalization and an age of instant communication into account which has enabled people like Noam Chomsky to join the explosion of sympathy for Binayak Sen.

The burgeoning tribe of intelligentsia among whom sympathy for Binayak Sen is in direct proportion to the severity of the Chattisgarh judgement, are now pitted against those who consider Sen a threat to their version of the hard state.

That Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh appears to be isolated is just that – an appearance. Just as he has been forthright on Malegaon and Samjhauta Express terror (along with Jehadi terror), so has he been candid on the Binayak Sen issue. The Congressmen who whisper that he is isolated have developed amnesia about a letter their leader, Sonia Gandhi, wrote in May 2010 on the issue exhorting her party men to make navigational corrections. She was very clear:
“While we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root causes of Naxalism. The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots, especially in our most backward tribal districts.”

The Congress Working Committee member who supported the Party President in the most ringing tones was one who is in the news again – K. Keshav Rao. He is in the thick of Telegana issue which too is partly linked to Maoism throughout what is loosely called the “red corridor”. Through cavernous routes, the corridor also links up with Nepal where, given the deadlock over drafting the constitution, some Indian hardliners (a minority) would acquiesce in a spell of Nepalese army rule until the next elections

The numerous interconnections sometimes blur the faultlines that are spread accross the Indian landscape – communal, caste, regional, linguistic. A most durable faultline is the one least noticed at the popular level in that form – a faultline.

This faultline between the plainspeople and those of the forests, sometimes invested with demonic attributes in ancient texts, is the most durable one whose resolution requires exactly the healing touch of Binayak Sen.

A most perplexing paradox concerns the differentiated status we accord to the “Adi” Shankara, original Shankaracharya and the “Adi” vasi, original inhabitants of India. One is our highest “sage-saint” and the other not just the lowest of the low, but outside the pale.]

Gangajal is holy to the caste Hindu; Mahua brew to the tribals – a drop is given to a child at birth and sprinkled on the dead before burial. The tribal must carry defensive weapons which the Forest Act forbids. This is not just a civilizational gap but a system of separate development, apartheid, which a reformed sate and thousands of Binayak Sens will take decades to bridge.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spokespersons at the Inquisitions, Cap in Hand

Spokespersons at the Inquisitions, Cap in Hand
Saeed Naqvi

The Burari session of the Congress, NDA rally, JPC-PAC sparring, onion and scams, are all building up to a lively election season beginning early next year – Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Pondicherry, Assam, leading to UP elections in 2012 and the General Elections in 2014. And the media, not political parties, have snatched the initiative.

In no great democracy in the world have I seen two major political parties, ready with a battery of spokes persons, skating their way from channel to channel in mesmeric control of the anchor, whose job is to initiate a relentless tu-tu, main-main, a telegenic version of the traditional cockfight, described aptly by the poet:

“Udhar raqeeb, idhar hum byulaye jaate hain,
Ki daana daal key murghey laraye jaate hain.”
(Rivals from both sides invited and made to fight over a bait.)

Who gains? The political parties?

The gainers from these painful inquisitions are never the political parties. The only gainers are the channels who operate on the principle that louder the din, higher the TRPs.

If this, indeed, is the state of affairs why do political parties feed programming which is counter productive?

Supposing the Congress (or BJP) were to decide that it would not send its spokespersons, cap in hand, to the Anchor’s parlour, what would the party stand to lose?

The Nation, I am afraid, does not sit around prime time news shows as around an altar or a God. Lutyens Delhi and Malabar Hill do. We know all about the latter: the most vociferous breast beaters after 26/11, showed no interest in the subsequent elections!

In fact not only does the Congress (or the BJP) not stand to lose anything by their non appearance in the humiliating arena, the channels would suffer enormously. Will they proceed with the show minus the Congress (or the BJP) point of view, and thereby risk their declining credibility plummet further?

Supposing the parties have teams of researchers working on the day’s or the week’s press briefing on any subject ranging from the Scams, urban crime, onions or Nerega. Do the channels dare ignore these? For the parties, subsequent TV discussion would have the following merit: they, not the channels, will have set the agenda.

For example, there has been no national debate on the political or economic resolutions adopted at Burari. Or, for that matter, on foreign policy.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao lamented in Karan Thapar’s excellent interview, that the Nation requires a more informed debate on China. The transcript of this interview appeared in the Hindu. What we have at the moment is a surfeit of uninformed, negative attitudes on China shaped by the anchors who do not know their elbow from their knee on the subject.

Anchors are careful on the US and Ratan Tata. In fact Ratan Tata, touched on the raw in the Radia Tapes, chose to grant an interview to a channel of his choice.

It was said of the great Egyptian singer Umme Kulsum’s performances on Radio Cairo that even news broadcasts were delayed indefinitely when she was singing.

In Indian history, when Mikhail Gorbachev as Secretary General of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, granted the first ever interview in the Kremlin, Doordarshan played the interview in full, lasting one hour and twenty minutes. Doordarshan was a government channel. What better could we expect?

But the Tata interview was on a channel which carries the free market on its shoulders. It beat the Gorbachev interview in sheer duration by a long shot.

All I am saying is that the political parties must ask, when they send their bleating lambs in, not who will slaughter them but who owns the slaughterhouse?

Pardon my memory tossing up couplets with nagging frequency:

Mir Taqi Mir, whom some consider a greater poet than Ghalib, says:
“Kitni daaman gir hai yaro uski maqtal gah-e-wafa,
Us zalim ki tegh taley se ek gaya to do aaye!”
(How compelling the arena where she (or he) puts the faithful to the sword; just when one has been put away, two more queue up in the shadow of that sword)

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Monday, December 20, 2010

200 Years Of Lucknow Should Be Planned Creatively

200 Years Of Lucknow Should Be Planned Creatively
Saeed Naqvi

The development route to popular governance appears to have infected UP’s capital as well. Mayawati plans to make Hazratganj look brand new – underground cables to replace overhead wires, all hoardings removed, fresh paint, that, familiar pale yellow of the Hazratganj of our memories. All for the fabled avenue’s 200th anniversary.

But will it all be ready by December 26? The scene today is reminiscent of those nervous weeks before the Commonwealth games. The games did take place, rather spectacularly. Is Monsoon Wedding an apt metaphor for the way we do things?

The real Lucknow, the city’s core, had, with the winds of change, enclosed itself in Aminabad, Nakhkas and Chowk, distancing itself in that order from Hazratganj’s partly Anglo-Indian veneer.

In the old city the saying was “gandi galiyan; saaf zubaan” or “dirty lanes but elegant speech”. Hazratganj did not live in the confusion of this past. It was one broad avenue, lined on both sides with shops, some of which were institutions like Kazim and co, the watch dealers, a sort of rendezvous for Lucknow’s declining aristocracy.

Transaction at no shop or business was possible without a brief conversational interlude. This was particularly true of Ram Advani’s civilized book shop, where to be seen was to be literary,

When I was a boy, the best pastry shop in the world was “Benbow’s” at the big chauraha which has given way to a garment outlet. I remember longingly watching the pastries, scones, chocolates from the pavement outside. Yeat’s description of Keats literally describes my circumstance.

“ I see a schoolboy, when I think of him;
his nose pressed hard against a sweet-shop window.”

Across the street from “Benbow’s” was Lucknow’s intellectual hub, the Coffee House. Precocious lads we must have been, because the faces of those around each table are etched on my mind. I was generally escorted by a communist uncle, a socialist cousin, and that moody cousin with an intellect like a basement junkyard of ornaments. Not to be forgotten was my “Aunt Agatha” who rubbed shoulders with the finest minds in the coffee House with a twin purpose – pursuit of knowledge and compilation of a catalogue for name dropping.

There, in that corner sits communist leader Dr. Z. Ahmad and Dr. K.M. Ashraf (author of the History of the People of Hindustan). At the adjacent table, Ram Manohar Lohia holds court. Amritlal Nagar and Prof. Ehtesham Hussain are all ears as Ananad Narain Mullah recites his ghazal. Then Majaz, Lucknow’s most beloved poet, winds his way between the tables with his sidekick, Salaam Machlishehri. Majaz pacing up and down Hazratganj was a constant – witty, sensitive, always stone broke and in search of a drinking host.

Ironically, Majaz wrote the anthem of Aligarh Muslim University, his alma mater, and died this month forty five years ago in a Lucknow country liquor shop.

His epitaph:
“Phir iske baad subah hai, aur subhe nau, Majaz.
Humpar hai khatm shaam e gharibane Lucknow.”
(There, a new dawn breaks. The evening of Lucknow’s dispossessed ends with me)

And how can the story of Hazratganj be complete without that brilliant vagabond, Safdar.

When Safdar reached home in the early hours of the morning, his father was asleep. When the father was up to spread out his Aminabad pavement bookshop, Safdar was slumbering. “For forty years we have not seen each other”, Safdar boasted. He generally washed his face in Kwality’s (another institution) and ate breakfast at Royal Café, across the street. There were always people vying with each other to host him for his wit and conversation.

Outlook editor Vinod Mehta, a contemporary, summed it up succinctly: “He doesn’t know where his next meal will come from: all he knows is that it will be a terrific one.”

The 200th anniversary is a great idea, but why this hurry? Hazratganj will not be ready by December 26. Let the very best in the land choreograph a show to remember nearer March in time for Holi. We can even consider a grand Sound and Light show, pulling together all the marvels of Lucknow on this occasion.

Since the concluding cultural event on December 29 will be at the Residency, we can fall back on the 1857 siege of that address. In situations of war, there are tragedies on both sides. An evocative recitation can be from the pages of “A Lady’s Diary of the Siege of Lucknow”. It can be a gripping show with proper lighting – December’s cold will not help. March will be perfect.

As for the Mushaira, one can suggest to the invited poets that a quartrain, sestet or a ghazal be on the theme of Lucknow or Hazratganj.

One of Lucknow’s theatre groups can contemplate a skit or a play at the coffee, bringing to life its memorable past.

And a bust of Lucknow’s most lovable poet, Majaz outside the Coffee House. An entrepreneur with imagination can transform the Country Liquor Shop near Lalbagh, where Majaz suffered the stroke which killed him, into a compelling port of call for the creatures of Bachus, a pilgrimage for Sufis who resonate well with the meaning of Majaz. A film director can picturize Majaz’s masterpiece, Awara.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leaks Legitimize Conspiracy Theories

Leaks Legitimize Conspiracy Theories
Saeed Naqvi

Wikileaks has not only knocked open the door on 250,000 secret diplomatic cables, it may also have inaugurated an era when audacious discourse will not be placed under the stifling blanket of that expression – “Conspiracy Theory”. So far only a tiny fraction is in the public domain. In fact at this rate we are in for a sensational five years unless, ofcourse, Julian Assange loses the world war in cyber space.

Eversince Columbus set sail to discover the new world, all important discourse has been controlled by the West. We learnt to remember Columbus Day, but nurse an amnesia about the genocide that followed his landing. Over the five centuries since Columbus the avenue for discourse has narrowed to an alley: bear left or right and you stray into the forbidden turf of conspiracy theories.

In no other field were the terms of discourse increasingly more rigid than in the conduct of international relations, particularly since the First World War when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and transformed into modern Middle-East, Israel being central to it.

A sort of dismissive disbelief greeted me earlier this week when I told a group of media scholars that Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussain’s Foreign Minister, was a clear headed, and one of the more lucid interlocutors I had ever met. How could someone on the side of “Evil”, so acclaimed universally, have anything to commend him?

Do the US ambassador to Baghdad, before operation Desert Storm, April Gillespie’s cables to Washington paint Aziz in flattering colours? Wait for Wikileaks.

It was not quite Kosher to discuss at a diplomatic dining table, say, Anthony Lewis columns in the New York Times suggesting that Gillespie had told Saddam (though with some diplomatic ambiguity) that his interests in Kuwait were understandable. There were all those encouraging gestures from the US Exim bank, senator Bob Dole’s meetings with Saddam. Again, wait for Wikileaks to confirm it all.

A number of writers and diplomats gave credence to the line that Saddam had been “lured” into Kuwait to create justifications for a new global coalition. This coalition had multiple objectives: to smash the old Soviet affiliate, Saddam and his Baathist infrastructure; to confirm a post Soviet role for the US in NATO; to check enhanced German-Japanese (Axis) role in the post Soviet distribution of global power.

The discourse was not centered in India, although the MEA may find its Baghdad ambassador’s notes of the period interesting. He now rears honey bees!

It did not take long to snuff out such unauthorized discourse. Deviants from conventional wisdom were promptly proclaimed the lunatic fringe, “conspiracy theorists”.

Take the bombing of Tripoli Libya, in April, 1986. Why was Qaddafi being targeted? His six month old daughter was killed in the attack. Conventional Wisdom in Tripoli’s sea front hotel, infested with journalists, was that the CIA had picked up “reliable” gossip that a Berlin discotheque was singled out by Qaddafi for acts of terrorism. A Berlin discotheque? Strange target. Was trouble not brewing since the Tripoli regime laid claims to the Gulf of Sidra? Such queries were greeted with raised eyebrows. Qaddafi was a fundamentalist supporting terrorism. That settled the issue.

Qaddafi’s much advertised fundamentalism was nowhere to be seen in Tripoli. The country had possibly the world’s first military academy for women. No Mullahs, but the most educated in the community led the Friday prayers. Women had equal rights. Indeed, Qaddafi’s personal bodyguards were women. Where was the alleged fundamentalism?

No, I was told. I was deluded by conspiracy theories. To end my isolation, Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat, with a few other Non Aligned Foreign Ministers, materialized in Tripoli to commiserate with Qaddafi. Wikileaks may be able to confirm why, but soon upon his return, Bhagat was sacked! Was Rajiv Gandhi rapped on the knuckles by Reagan? Conspiracy Theory?

A conspiracy theory I have nursed privately concerns Israeli “hippies” keeping a watch on the straits of Mallaca, from Indian territory – Nicobar islands.

When the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka, Aceh in Indonesia, Andhra and Tamil Nadu on December 26, 2004, guess who was the first ambassador to call on South Block? The Israeli Ambassador! He sought permission to evacuate Israeli citizens from Nicobar which was in the eye of the Tsunami. The Ambassador asked if he could arrange to fly out the Israelis. But once the waters subsided, the Israeli “holiday makers” preferred to stay on!

So good was the subsequent co-operation between the US and India during 2004 that a term, “Tsunami model” was coined to institutionalize co-ordination between New Delhi and Washington in South Asia, a sort of three legged diplomacy.

This is just a flavour of the kind of stuff that will find its way into journalism in the coming weeks, months or years. Is this good or bad? As the Editor said to his doubting reporter: publish and be damned!

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Media’s Hall of Fame.

The Media’s Hall of Fame.

However much those in the media, ignored by Niira Radia, discuss those who were not, the fact of the matter is, that Niira Radia has established the Indian Media’s First Hall of Fame, a sort of high point for media aspirants. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of “notoriety” (“fame” did he say?) would be a churlish way to describe those in the spotlight.

Pain would be bearable if my diminished utility for the likes of Radia was attributable to my declining years. But the truth is mortifying: one never had any utility whatsoever of the variety that would entitle one to a niche in the Hall of Fame. Ridiculous, the waste, sad time!

Just as we must choose our parents with care, so must we choose with care the institutions where we take our first steps. Woe is me: I made bad choices on both counts. Parents emphasized culture, manners, speech, books, morals but not wealth. So I grew up with the wrong values.

The Statesman as a professional nursery was another hopeless choice. We don’t like to increase our circulation, I was told, because being Nehru’s first newspaper, its prestige was national. The Editor, to insulate himself from pressures, had just two friends in New Delhi – one Sinclair of Burmah shell and the other, army chief J N Chaudhury, the latter for being suitably “English”.

With such training, what hope?

To build media empires, seek Rajya Sabha nominations, contest elections, were instincts pulled out of our DNA by those inept choices of parentage and professional nurseries.

Ofcourse, there were those need based transgressions like that Public Relations officer helping a colleague’s name taken off the Press club notice board for non payment of dues. But word was soon out. This one misdemeanour affected the yearly increments.

But pardon me because I am comparing apples and pumpkins. Nostalgia is sometimes unhelpful in analyzing contemporary reality.

The first major hit that rattled the media was Indira Gandhi’s 1975 emergency. It divided the media between those who hated Indira Gandhi and those who hated those who hated Indira Gandhi. The divide has not yet been composed. After she split the Congress in 1969, she depended on the Left. Appeared the 1974 JP movement, backed by Ramnath Goenka, Nanaji Deshmukh and others opposed to the left. The post emergency libertarianism was heavily laced with Hindutva and socialism tolerant of it. It was a promising platform for sections of industry inimical to the Left. The metropolitan media, traditionally westward inclined, also became implacably hostile to Indira Gandhi.

The next major change in the media followed the post Soviet Liberalization of the economy. First, the victorious authors of market economy inaugurated an era of live 24 X 7 global TV with the coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Almost on cue, the Indian TV opened up. Indeed, it burgeoned.

The linkages between the global media and the new, energetic, untested Indian metropolitan media were not comprehensive but limited and insidious.

The global media would have atleast two sets of software: one for its own viewers, another for the global audience. International affairs, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, Europe would be controlled from Washington (Atlanta, Georgia) and London. The Indian media would not (could not) take any initiatives in the coverage of world affairs. The line would be “foreign affairs do not give us the TRPs”. If it became essential to use some foreign clip, there were always CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP and Sundry others to oblige.

Has anyone thought of using the RTI to check out the Murdoch, CNN antecedents or linkages of the media currently in the news? Nothing wrong with the links but there are implications for a “self professed” prospective UNSG member.

In earlier days, the journalist had to seek a professionally fruitful and ethical equation only with the governmental establishment. Today, the TV journalist /star is also entrepreneur, worried as much about news as about TRPs, Ads, Corporates, whose money is often keeping the channel buoyant.

The balance of power between the government and the corporates has changed radically, buffetting the TV entrepreneur/ journalist from both. In the confusion, an embassy or two in Chanakyapuri toss in their line. Sometimes the media is rendered so supine by an unnerving coherence between the government, corporates, the MNCs, and the embassies that speakers corner at Hyde Park looms in the mind’s eye as a happy vision of freedom. In that moment of weakness if only Radia would call! But, as in Prufrock, I do not think that she will “sing to me”.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bihar’s Double Fisted Punch on Caste and Corruption

Bihar’s Double Fisted Punch on Caste and Corruption
Saeed Naqvi

Bihar’s much derided electorate has administered a resounding double-fisted punch on the chin of exactly the sort of politics which breeds 2G spectrum, Adarsh and CWG. JDU’s Nitish Kumar has also demolished caste and emerged as 21st century India’s model leader.

It was smart anticipation on the part of Congress President Sonia Gandhi to walk briskly towards the cameras and, avoiding the Bihar debacle, rattle off the list of corrective measures against those of her party or coalition partners caught with their hand in the till. She contrasted this against BJP’s triple summersault on Yedurappa and his scams in Karanatka. In her brief performance there were shades of Indira Gandhi who, when cornered, generally lashed out.

Holding onto Nitish Kumar’s waist coat, the BJP has exceeded all expectations in Bihar. They could have basked in that glory a little longer. Instead of partying in Patna, they yoked themselves to Yedurappa in Bangalore, because, by some accounts, he threatened to split the local BJP and deny the party the support of every single Lingayat Muth in Karnataka.

Nitish Kumar, of course, has made history by universally acclaimed good governance and brilliant politics. Once it became clear that the minorities had totally given up on the Congress particularly after the Ayodhya Judgement, the expectation was that the Muslim vote would habitually drift towards Lalu Prasad Yadav.

That the Muslims turned to Nitish despite his alliance with the BJP could well be another turning point in the country’s political history. This confirms the extent of Muslim exasperation with the Congress. Nitish harnessed this disgust deftly by coming across as a firm leader who could keep the BJP on a tight leash. In other words, he could moderate the BJP.

No BJP leaders, who are anathema to the minorities, were allowed to campaign. Then there was the record of five years free of communalism, years of development, roads, schools, uniforms, gender equality, 11 percent growth, a general ambience of welfare. The compelling attractiveness of development, dwarfing caste and religion, places Nitish as the tallest leader today.

The BJP worked with the diligence of ants.

Taking full advantage of Nitish’s secular efficiency, under his attractive, overarching canopy, the BJP cadres moved (rather like “Birnam wood” coming to “Dunsinane Hill” in Macbeth) and clinched their 91 seats varying their flight and spin imperceptibly from constituency to constituency. A dedicated cadre in the alliance must have helped Nitish too to clock 115 seats.

What Nitish has on his hands now is a first rate political situation. The BJP was never expected to come so close to the JDU in numbers. Together they now have a record four fifth of a House of 243. It is a paradox of politics that Nitish would have had an easier five years with a simple majority plus 20 seats. Why? Because friction is built into the present numerical equation between the JDU and the BJP.

A pity Lalu Prasad Yadav is walking into the sunset. He was an amusing figure in a country bereft of political humour. Also, he probably had outlived his utility at a time when Mandal is a fading memory. Some credit must also go to him: the caste churning he inaugurated prepared the ground for Nitish to aim for a new social equilibrium. This must not mislead folks from believing that we have moved into a post caste era. Far from it.

In the two by elections in UP, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party trounced the Congress. Apparently in the October Panchayat elections, the Congress suffered reverses in its citadels of Rae Bareli and Amethi. The spin being given is that Panchayat elections were on non-party lines and Mayawati was now buying up the winners. Does it sound plausible at all?

The election season has truly begun. Elections to Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Assam, West Bengal and Kerala stare a debilitated Congress in the face in March and, a year later in UP and then the ultimate Kurukshetra, the General Election in 2014.

Congress rules alone or as UPA in eleven states. So do the BJP and its NDA incarnation, as in Bihar for instance. There are as many states where the Chief Ministers come from stables other than BJP or Congress.

Neither the Congress nor BJP leadership at the center inspires. One of the shackles on the Congress is the party’s almost servile inability to spell out whether the Youth Surge, with Rahul Gandhi in the vanguard, is real or ephemeral. Does anybody in the party dare speak out that “Ekla chalo” in Bihar or UP is an unrealistic slogan?

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Corruption And Eleven Day Test Matches

Corruption And Eleven Day Test Matches
Saeed Naqvi

Three batsmen at separate test venues on the same day score a triple hundred, a double century and a century. Captain M.S. Dhoni throws up his hands: “We will need eleven days of play continuously to obtain a result”. A spinner hits two hundreds in a row.

What does all of this have to do with 2G Spectrum, Adarsh, CWG? A great deal.

Pundits say Chanakya’s Arthasastra refers to “utkot” which means bribe, something that was fairly common for “rajkramcharis” or state officials to accept.

The British used the caste hierarchy to minimize corruption at the lower level bureaucracy. The ICS steel frame kept order at the top. It was, for instance, not uncommon for a Saiyyid from the landed gentry to monitor the excise department in a district where poppy cultivation was extensive. Genteel upbringing, it was assumed, would create an automatic distance between the excise official and the potential bribe giver.

Word “sharafat” was at a premium. Unfortunately, there is no exact English translation for that word. “Nobility of character” minus the class connotation and “honesty” do approximate to “sharafat”.

There was sufficient corruption even in 1950 to inspire Josh Malihabadi to write his poem “Rishwat Khori” or “bribery”. Josh’s satire is directed at traders and businessmen who had “fattened” themselves in cahoots with the corrupt instruments of the state:
“Tond walon ki to ho teemardari
Wah, wah!
Aur hum chaata karein imandari
Wah, whah?”
(The fat bellied and the corrupt, their cups full, are pampered;
While we lick the sweetener of honesty.)

Rising prices also underpinned corruption. Witness Josh’s punchline:
“Hum agar rishwat nahin lenge
to phir khaen ge kya”
(How will we feed ourselves without taking bribes.)

The corruption that disturbed Josh was largely a function of a sudden breakdown of the feudal order. Declining aristocrats were overnight reduced to penury. Middlemen turned up to pick up the heirlooms at throwaway prices. Patwari upwards, everyone in the revenue and land departments got into the act of transferring land to the “investor” or “Lala” at fictitious prices. The upheaval of partition followed by zamindari abolition brought in its wake a variety corruption.

From 1952 onwards, demands of electoral politics opened up another channel. Arrange for jeeps and country liquor for four “bastis” (colonies) of low caste voters. If the candidate wins, turn up at his MLA quarters in Lucknow for a canal building contract. This is the tiniest example.

There had always been a nexus between the Congress party and big business. After all, Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram at Sevagram was financed by Jamnalal Bajaj; Gandhiji was assassinated in Birla House, New Delhi. Members of the Union cabinet like Satyanarain Sinha never disguised their loyalty to the Birlas.

The nexus between the party and sources of funding was monitored by individuals of integrity: Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, C.B. Gupta, Atulya Ghosh, L.N. Mishra, Rajni Patel (the last named with a caveat). It has always bothered me that Sitaram Kesari, remained Treasurer of the party for nearly two decades without a single allegation of corruption being made against him. But the manner in which he was dismissed confirmed that in Congress culture considerations of caste and power would trump financial honesty.

The system expanded where politicians with less than few thousand crores began to suffer from an acute inferiority complex. Why can’t the finances of all these fat cats be investigated? Yes, bureaucrats, industrialists, journalists, everybody.

By the time the post Cold War economic liberalization was upon us, ancient wisdom had been made to stand on its head. We had been taught: “The purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness”. Rampaging capitalism altered the basic lesson: “the purpose of life is the accumulation of wealth”.

The balance between Lakshmi and Sarawati, the basic Indian equilibrium, has been tilted obscenely in favour of wealth. It is this culture of grab, grab, grab of which 2G Spectrum, CWG, Adarsh are only the latest examples.

Avarice and greed were values for Henry Ford when he advised: “Buy when there is blood on the streets”. The theology had currency until Enronn, Fannie Mae, Freddie Max, Lehman Brothers, AIG have cumulatively brought down the global economy to a point where even a nervous Economist is editorially advising us not to lose “confidence in capitalism”. The guiding theology of our times is being re examined.

Pitches are “guaranteed” for matches to last five days so that billions in TV ads (never mind the empty stands) are not lost just in case a fast track or a turning wicket terminates a test match in three days! This grab, grab application on cricket has denied it of the game’s poetry encapsulated in Neville Cardus’s description of Hammond driving between cover and extra cover.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Obama supports India’s “Diplomacy by Default” But Will Indo-US Unity Help in Afghanistan?

Obama supports India’s “Diplomacy by Default”
But Will Indo-US Unity Help in Afghanistan?
Saeed Naqvi

In search of saliency in the Obama visit, pundits have missed out on “Indo-US” co-operation in Afghanistan, a major shift since the narrative so far has been about US-Pak collaboration in the Af-Pak theatre.

The joint Indo-US statement issued at the end of President Obama’s visit reads:

“The two sides committed to intensify consultation, co-operation and co-ordination to promote a stable, democratic, prosperous and independent Afghanistan. President Obama appreciated India’s enormous cooperation to Afghanistan’s development and welcomed enhanced Indian assistance that will help Afghans achieve self-sufficiency. In addition to their own independent assistance programs in Afghanistan, the two sides resolved to pursue joint development projects with the Afghan government in capacity building, agriculture and women’s empowerment.”

The paragraph shuts up a noisy but uninformed lobby in India seeking a more muscular, “macho” (for which read “lethal”) presence in Afghanistan to check Pakistan’s military engagement with the US for controlling influence in Afghanistan.

Additionally, it is a rap on the knuckles for the US military policy makers in Afghanistan who are on record that India’s “political and economic influence” and “significant financial assistance” are impeding Afghan war efforts.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former US Force Commander said in June “Increasing Indian influence is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter measures in Afghanistan or India”.

The “countermeasures” cited by McChrystal’s colleagues were, for instance, attacks on Indian Embassy in Kabul. The implications of the McChrystal thesis were far reaching: that India should turn its back on Afghanistan so that the US-Pak combine can clear up Afghanistan of Al Qaeda and Taleban.

Even if one sets aside the India angle, the McChrystal thesis was a recipe for the US to sink deeper into the Afghan quicksand.

A leak from McChrystal’s note book insulting to Obama’s team resulted in him being sacked. He now teaches a course at Yale.

His successor in Kabul, Gen. David Petraeus, has so far not suggested that India quit Afghanistan to facilitate the US war effort. But he too has been talking about Pakistani fears of India’s “Cold Start” doctrine. “Cold Start” is a fancy term for Rapid Deployment. The term was apparently used in a seminar but has never been a doctrine locked up in some archive.

The Joint statement, carrying Obama’s imprimatur, shuts out this US military inspired thinking which has traditionally had a considerable resonance with the Pak Army ever since the US-Pak military pact was signed in the 50s and sustained through the Cold War. The joint statement almost scuttles a longstanding systematic synchronization.

Appreciation and endorsement of “India’s enormous co-operation to Afghanistan’s development” is a major shift. Obama justifies India’s concentration on construction of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and facilitating Afghan students in Indian schools, colleges and universities. Also, New Delhi, barely 90 minutes away from Kabul, has become a favoured destination for Afghan patients.

Stereotype diplomacy in Afghanistan as being an adjunct to military force has been made to stand on its head by almost Gandhian, non-lethal “good works”, done by New Delhi. Exasperated by bombings, searches, humiliations not unknown to Pakistan with its on and off participation in the war effort, Afghans have found Indians the most calming presence in difficult times. A common exclamation in Mazar-e-Sharif as well as Kabul it: “They flood us with arms; India helps us rebuild.”

This “diplomacy by default” as Indian low key presence in Afghanistan has been described by a think tank, has not only worked but has been applauded by Obama.

The further US commitment, “in addition to India’s own assistance program” is to jointly take up “development projects with the Afghan government in capacity building, agriculture and women’s empowerment”.

This Indo-US combined effort with the Afghan government serves a twin purpose. It creates and expands space towards an eventual political settlement in Afghanistan. At the same time Pakistani fears that India may be sharpening the pincer on it from the West, is taken care of by the US keeping an eye on the “nasty works” India may be upto. But there is a catch: New Delhi’s popularity in Afghanistan has been because of the widespread perception of its independence. Going hand in hand with the US may spoil it.

The joint commitment to promote a “stable, democratic, prosperous and independent Afghanistan” obviates any hegemonic role in Afghanistan by neighbours or, indeed, the US.

Two broad themes, in the works for months, were discernable in the interactions: growing US frustration at being stuck with a “nuclear”, increasingly unstable but logistically indispensable Pakistan which nurses “terror camps”. Without their elimination, Afghanistan cannot be stabilized.

The other theme was China, its domineering presence on the world stage. China’s rise was not seen in confrontational terms, but rather as a challenge to keep it in a cooperative global concert. Witness Manmohan Singh deflecting attacks on the currency issue at the Seoul, G20.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obama: Lessons on Caste and Babur

Obama: Lessons on Caste and Babur
Saeed Naqvi

It might be an interesting detail for a US President who has come up the Civil Rights ladder. The role caste politics in India has played in boosting Indo-US ties in recent years. The dynamics in the connection are somewhat awkward to explain, and are a theme for another article.

The Indian Diaspora that went out to the colonial plantations as indentured labour in the 19th century were all lower caste. But the one that went to the US since the 70s were overwhelmingly upper caste.

Caste politics brought in its train a system of reservations in education and government jobs. Excellence, in other words, was being challenged by other social considerations because electoral politics had opened doors to burgeoning egalitarianism. Entrenched class and caste elites (to accept socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia’s thesis) which had recycled themselves for centuries, saw themselves being replaced, in phases, by new classes-castes in the foreseeable future. This began to happen in the 90s. Don’t forget Mandir-Masjid politics coincided with the opening of the economy post cold war when Washington became the world’s most magnetic capital.

A steady stream of Indian students had begun to populate American universities since the early 70s after the numbers going to Britain dropped. These Universities were anathema during the colonial period: Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah were all creatures of British education. Jayaprakash Narayan always had a complex because his father-in-law could only send him to Wisconsin. Britain remained the favoured destination for the recycled elite upto the 60s. Three years at Cambridge or Oxford in those days cost no more than Rs.10,000 (Rupees Ten thousand).

The Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson took up “decolonization” seriously: British Councils were close down. There were few British scholarships. Meanwhile, the Indian elite ran out of money.

This was the turning point. US Universities opened up their campuses to Indian students who, if they had ability, also had access to full scholarships. What began as driblets were regular streams by the late 70s to 80s. Indians with American degrees obtained in the 70s are today in key positions in India.

This flow of Indians to the US coincided in the 90s with the surge in “reservations” in North India.

Fearing total status reversal on account of reservations, the elite began to park their wards in the US, first through the university system then permanent residence and Green cards. Others joined the exodus.

There was hardly a Prime Minister who did not have a son, daughter or close relative in the US. Could other members of the cabinet have been far behind?

It would be interesting to have the following data: children of Foreign Service officers above the rank of Joint Secretaries, Secretaries to Government at the Center, senior members of the armed services, senior journalists, whose children are studying or working or are citizens of the US. They are not a negligible glue in Indo-US relations.

A large section of the Silicon Valley, large number of CEOs, and such like Indian success phenomenon are mostly post Mandal happenings.

What Britain lost out in the 60s has ofcourse become America’s gain. But that is not all. It is this Indian Diaspora which has powerful links in New Delhi and works as a strong binding factor.

There should be logical sequence to this trajectory. More educated and therefore upper caste Indians should be looking for pastures in the US. But will they? Joseph Stiglitz and others of his ilk who see the US economy in Freefall (Stiglitz’s book) are painting the US in such lurid colours, that we may soon see US-bound Indians a diminishing commodity.

Bill Clinton’s famous three words, “the economy, stupid”, may give way to Barack Obama’s two words “Jobs, stupid”.

This may be payback time. And here too, US faith in Indian talent appears to be paying off. Indian companies in the US are already employing 60,000 Americans. The wheel may well be coming full circle. More and more Indian entrepreneurs are examining profitability of investments in the US.

Obviously business newspapers will obtain a few headlines on Indian business outsourcing $10 billion in the US. Studies done by businesses on how outsourcing, in a roundabout way, ends up generating jobs will make for op ed pieces. The expectation is that restrictions on ISRO, AEA, DRDO will be lifted, allowing them to do business with US firms.

Incidentally, talking of caste churning and how it differs from the Civil Rights movement which prepared the ground for Obama to be where he is, the differences between his educational reach and the home spun cunning of caste leaders, Salman Khurshid is just the right man to educate the visiting President on this as on Moghul history. Obama will certainly go back with a copy of Sons of Babur, Salman’s maiden effort as playwright.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Obama Visit: Realism Without Hype

Obama Visit: Realism Without Hype
Saeed Naqvi

All those who were, until the other day shrugging their shoulders and despairing at no “deliverable” packages during the Obama visit, suddenly have a relaxed pensiveness in their eyes which comes from the dawning of realism. In essence, the visit will be directional not “destinational”.

Little wonder someone involved in the preparations was heard with rapt attention when he narrated Obama’s description of his exchange with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Oval office: it was an intellectual exploration of the myriad problems that afflict the globe. The two, between them, are more intellectually equipped, than any other pair of summiteers. Manmohan Singh’s meetings in Malaysia and Hanoi and Obama’s coming itinerary in that region, all point to a pooling of ideas.

Jaswant Singh, who was Foreign Minister during the Bill Clinton visit, recalls his conversation with Strobe Talbott: Let the “sherpas” negotiate the trading lists of “must do” and “can do” items. “It is demeaning to treat an arriving President as a stars-and-stripe Santa Clause.” Nor should the President of the United States, in pinched economic circumstances, turn up as a trader.

Presidential visits can sometimes be misleading pointers to subsequent history. Circumstances change. Remember when the born-again, President Jimmy Carter met the twice born Prime Minister, Morarji Desai during his visit to India in January 1978, it seemed to herald a navigational correction in New Delhi’s foreign policy. The excitable Haryana leader, Devi Lal, even christened a village, Carterpuri. Such was the excitement.

Who could have imagined that within three months, in April 1978, Noor Mohammad Taraki, a Communist to boot, would become Prime Minister in neighbouring Afghanistan, paving the way for the Soviet invasion, making Pakistan the frontline state.

The first post cold war visit to India by a US President was Bill Clinton’s in March 2000. The American perception of the altered regional realities was reflected in the itinerary: Clinton spent five days in India and five hours in Islamabad, mostly chastising Gen. Pervez Musharraf for turning a blind eye to cross border terrorism.

Post 9/11, Musharraf made a U-turn and, to New Delhi’s chagrin, the US embraced him as its principal ally in the global war on terror forgetting how cross border terrorism had plagued India since 1989. With help from countries in the region, the US ousted the Taleban from Kabul. It had entered the conflict in a mood of “full spectrum dominance”. But, since the global economic downturn, a chastened US finds itself in urgent quest for policy options to scale down in Afghanistan. How does India play a calming role in this situation without getting involved in the mess?

Heaven knows how much work has been done on this count and incorporated into Obama’s briefs.

Gen. Stanley Mccrystal, from whom Gen. David Petraeus has taken over as US Force Commander in the region, was quite explicit: India must vamoose from Afghanistan to ease Pak anxieties about an Indian pincer from the east and the west.

Gen. Petraeus didn’t go quite that far but even he could not resist talking of India’s “cold start” thesis (a term for rapid deployment) possibly to keep the Pak military in good humour. No such thesis exits.

One can understand Pakistan’s indispensability on account of the supply route from Karachi through Balochistan to Afghanistan and US anxieties about religious extremism in the world’s most powerful and unstable Muslim state “with a 100 nuclear warheads”.

These are realities but how will they come up in the discussion? That Pakistan, strapped to a nuclear bomb, is about to go over the precipice? Or that sober appraisals are required bilaterally, then trilaterally and so on.

American desire to scale down in Afghanistan is clear but its ability to do so by 2011 is less so. Who will protect Hamid Karzai until and beyond 2014? Mullah Omar, Gulbudin Hekmatyar and Serajuddin Haqqani? Karzai begins to froth in the mouth with anger at the very mention of someone like Haqqani? So much for the acceptability of Pakistani assets in Afghanistan.

India’s popular infrastructure and development projects, supported by the widespread magic of Bollywood, has given it a wholesome profile in Kabul which must not register in Islamabad as facts adversarial to its interests.

Look! In varying degrees, all of us in the region are in a mess and should get into a scrum which must include Pakistan, Obama’s destination early next year. On this we shall look for hints from the summit.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Karachi Cauldron Bubbles Over

Karachi Cauldron Bubbles Over
Saeed Naqvi

If the US is to stay on in Afghanistan’s half a dozen or so bases in the event of it scaling down its combat troops by July 2011, these bases will require a steady flow of supplies. It is in this context the continuing violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub and the main port for US supplies to Afghanistan, is disturbing for the US and NATO in addition to the people of Karachi.

In the past few months atleast 250 people have been killed in violence which is political, sectarian and, above all, a crucial tussle between Karachi’s largely moderate population and an increasingly assertive Muslim extremism. In fact it is an explosive brew of all these elements.

Post partition migration of population, mostly Hindus from Punjab, were described as “refugees” in the earlier years, but have since been assimilated totally. Two such people have been Prime Ministers of India – Inder Gujaral and Manmohan Singh.

In Pakistan the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar settled overwhelmingly in Karachi, have been institutionalized as “Mohajirs” or “refugees”. They brought with them their language, Urdu. Many paradoxes attended this language. Its very soul was forged in undivided India’s composite culture but it was made Pakistan’s national language. How does the very epitome of “ganga-jumni” culture enmesh with the evolution of a theocratic state?

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement or MQM became almost the sole representative of Karachi’s Mohajirs, a massive majority in Karachi’s 18 to 20 million population.

After the turbulence in Afghanistan since the 80s, waves of Pushto speaking Pathans (Pushtoons) have populated clearly demarcated areas which, over the years, have burgeoned into Pushtoon ghettos like Al Asif, just outside Karachi airport. There are now over four million Pushtoons and numerous such fortified ghettos which are no-go for non Pushtoons.

Over the years as Pakistan created its “Jehadist”, “Talebanized” “assets” in Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province, the militant Islamic streak has penetrated these ghettos and begun to condition them.

The Awami National Party or ANP, a political force confined to the NWFP, is making inroads into Karachi’s politics. The aspiration to create political base in Karachi has grown in direct proportion to the ANP’s decline in NWFP where it is increasingly despised as being part of the Pak establishment which is in cahoots with the Americans raining bombs or targeting areas with unmanned drones. ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali, cannot easily enter NWFPs premier city, Peshawar.

In this atmosphere, Haider Raza, MQM member in the Sind Assembly, was assassinated in August leading to riots in which a hundred people died. This was in addition to the tit for tat murders between rival gangs affiliated to rival political and ethnic parties which are Karachi’s almost daily routine.

Add to this cauldron ultra fundamentalist outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba pushing their rabid anti Amadiya, anti Shia agendas and you have vapours of confusion and strife choking Pakistan’s biggest city.

The reason for the latest wave of violence unleashed last week was the by election for the seat made vacant because of Haider Raza’s murder in August. Haidar Raza had polled 80,000 votes as against ANP’s 923. This time, the ANP, presumably fearing a similar drubbing, announced on the eve of polling that they would like elections to be halted because they feared the MQM would “rig” the elections.

Four MQM supporters were picked up. This was followed by indiscriminate firing in which 33 people were killed and many more wounded.

As for the results of the by election, well, MQM polled 91,000 votes against ANP’s 210. The violence is, to all appearances, a consequence of sections of the ANP unable to cope with a humiliating electoral defeat. Also, the indiscriminate violence is a means to intimidate the MQM’s silent support base.

Farooq Sattar and Babar Khan Ghori are two MQM ministers in the coalition at the centre. If the MQM withdraws support or joins the opposition, the government in Islamabad could collapse.

The survival or otherwise of the PPP led government is not such a momentous development.

What is critical is the slow and steady growth of pernicious, intolerant ways of designing Islam where civilization itself is condemned as apostasy.

A more frightening development than any in recent weeks was the attack on October 6 on the Sufi shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi. This follows attacks on Lahore’s most revered shrine.

Karachi, in addition to being the centre of the MQM, also happens to be the capital of Sind, the sub continent’s most Sufi inclined people.

It is all a catastrophe waiting to happen in the port city indispensable to US war effort in Kabul unless, of course, in some distant future the mist lifts and some Iranian ports swim into focus.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

US – Pak Spat: Another Repeat

US – Pak Spat: Another Repeat
Saeed Naqvi

US-Pak relations are like high risk aerobatics. The plane nosedives, loops up, cruises at varying altitudes, takes a few spins and steadies.

Relations are going through a similar turbulence these days following a helicopter strike which killed three Pak soldiers. Pakistan, in anger, blocked the supply route to the US deployments in Afghanistan. US, or NATO or ISAF (take your pick) trucks were set on fire by militants.

The US has been bending repeatedly in apology, looking rather like the Japanese handing someone a visiting card.

Shooting off target and bending over in apology is a routine ritual eversince the US entered the Af-Pak turf after 9/11.

The US troops are under pressure from the White House to show results in Afghanistan. Pakistan is equally adamant to demonstrate its indispensability towards this end.

The perilous path from Karachi port through Balochistan into Afghanistan is territory totally mapped by the Pak Army. That the route is never far from Kandahar and Quetta means it is within the surveillance range of Taleban and Quetta Shura on which a section of the Pak establishment would like to project as having some influence.

Billions that Pak receives from the US for this partnership and billions more it earns by being a supply route is not enough recompense.

Islamabad would like to have a decisive say on who occupies the gaddi in Kabul. Hamid Karzai does a the moment and he has obtained from the International Community, at the July Conference in Kabul, that he would remain on the throne till 2014.

If the Americans were to scale down in Afghanistan by 2011 as Barak Obama has ordained, who will protect Karzai in Kabul? The US will, ofcourse, because it is only “scaling” down not departing by that date.

What is the White House demanding Gen. David Petraeus to achieve that would help Democrats in the November Congressional elections? I bet Gen. Petraeus does not know. So he expands special operations, another expression for Commando raids and flies drones into Pakistan’s mischief areas like Waziristan and occasionally pulls out his handkerchief to wipe egg from his face when poor targeting dependent on poorer intelligence, kills Pak soldiers, civilians, children for the umpteenth time.

In this fashion, running to stand still, Gen. Petraeus will see the Congressional elections through. Should he still be at the job, he will see the US Presidential election through in 2012 too.

It is conceivable the choreography will look even more untidy with Hamid Karzai getting more strident in his studied anti Americanism. Finally American cartoonists appear to be getting a hang of things in Afghanistan. A recent cartoon shows Karzai, his Afghan cape over his shoulders, seated on a carpet with a bearded Taleban. Karzai says “Down with America”. The Taleban responds: “Death to the infidels”. Behind the foliage a grinning American and US military officer say to each other. “Good they are talking”.

Karzai has been complaining to all and sundry, that the Americans are not striking at Pak terrorist bases. Mullah Omar’s confident, Abdus Salaam Zaeef, and Karzai’s bitter critic, the former Tajik Head of the National Security Services, Amrallah Saleh, all converge on this point: the US is not striking at Pak bases.

Hence the recent Drone and Helicopter gunship attacks, inviting a roar of disapproval from Pakistanis for loss of military lives and invasion of sovereignty.

Every voice in Afghanistan says: the enemy is headquartered in Pakistan. But Pakistan says we are your allies in this war; don’t violate our sovereignty. The message from Washington is: show results in Afghanistan. What does Gen. Petraeus do in the circumstances? A little bit of this and a little bit of that – until the Congressional elections are over.

In the midst of all these complications, why is Karzai calling the US names? Because, the US is no longer out to defeat the Taleban. It wishes to weaken it. At that point Karzai can start negotiating with the Afghan Taleban. To harmonize with the broad Anti Americanism of the Taleban, Karzai must build an anti US plank too.

It is quite extraordinary, that Hamid Karzai, handpicked by the Americans nine years ago must now stoke anti Americanism in the interest of the US.

For how many more decades will successive US administrations succeed in keeping away from the American people the harsh truth that Zillions of dollars worth of their money is spent in expeditions in far off lands where their nations is hated? Pakistan is another such.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

What Should Muslims Do?

What Should Muslims Do?
Saeed Naqvi

What should be the Muslim attitude to the Ayodhya verdict? He had, at the very outset, agreed that he would accept a court verdict. The verdict is out. And now?

“Bahut khamosh, bahut pursukoon samandar hai,
Magar woh shor jo paani ki teh ke andar hai!”
(The sea is silent, peaceful. But, oh, the turbulence beneath the surface!)

Justice Sibqat Ullah Khan in his 285 page judgment has given the example of the Treaty of Hudaibiya which Prophet Mohammad signed with the hostile tribe of Quraish in 628, barely four years before his death. It had been six years since the prophet and his followers left Mecca for Madina.

After these years, the Prophet with a caravan of 1,000 men on his way to Mecca for Haj reached Hudaibiya. Quraish had made it known that they would block Muslim entry to Mecca. The Prophet consulted his companions: should the caravan return to Madina or proceed, risking a battle. Intermediaries carried messages both ways. All that the Muslims wanted was to perform Haj at Mecca. This the Quraish were adamant to prevent. Eventually a truce was agreed upon. Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, drafted a treaty. The prophet dictated that it was a treaty between “Mohammad, the Prophet of Allah, and Quraish”. Interlocutors for Quraish objected. They did not recognize him as God’s prophet. Ali, his cousin, refused to drop the preamble. The Prophet intervened and himself deleted the phrase, thus paving the way for a Treaty which declared a truce between the two sides.

The terms of the treaty were obviously insulting to the Muslim. For instance, despite the compromise, they would not be allowed to perform Haj that year. Next year they could, provided they stayed in Mecca for only three days. There were other apparently demeaning clauses. The pact was loaded in favour of the Quraish. Many described it as abject surrender.

In modern military terms, the treaty turned out to be a sort of tactical retreat, because in a matter of a few years Muslims had conquered Mecca.

What “conquest” is recommended in Justice Khan’s sermon, for that partly is what it is? If you study the parable of Hudaibiya alongside Iqbal’s couplets Justice Khan so aptly quotes, his message is clear: communal disharmony has to be conquered. What tactical surrender must Muslims make towards this end?

Where is the national leader of sufficient stature who can distil the message from the treaty of Hudaibiya and from Iqbal, and give it contemporary relevance? Or, in a more narrow focus: where is the Muslim leader to manage the post verdict mood? I believe the Congress has two or three but the nation has not seen them in the past week.

Ofcourse, the judgment is faith, folklore, mythology superceding facts. How should the Muslims cope with the verdict? Bear the judgment with dignity. Ofcourse, go in appeal to the Supreme Court, but let the secular Hindu occupy the foreground. See how many there are willing to take up cudgels for the rule of law. It is not only a Muslim battle after all.

There is a great deal in Justice Khan’s judgment which makes for fascinating reading.

For instance, Tulsi Das (1532-1623) wrote Ram Charit Manas from 1574 to 1577 less than 50 years from the date of the building of the mosque after the alleged destruction of the Ram temple. Would a Ram Bhakt like Tulsi not have been aware that a temple to the Lord of his adoration been destroyed five decades ago? And if he knew why would he not write about it?

The judgment records:
“Several learned counsels appearing for different Hindu parties tried to explain this vital omission on the ground that Tulsi Das was afraid that in case he mentioned it, the Moghul Emperor of the time would not like it and he would be harmed.”

In other words, cowardice has been attributed to Tulsi Das by the defenders of Ram before the Allahabad Bench. If they only knew that Tulsi Das was one of the most respected names in the Moghul court. Surely the considerable rapport between Tulsi Das and Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, possibly the most influential nobleman in the Moghul court, is proof enough. The greatest Sanskrit Poetry in praise of Ram in the medieval period was written by Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, Tulsi’s contemporary.

So, what should the Muslim do? Take a back seat in the Babari Masjid – Ram Janambhoomi arena. Why? Because while you remain embroiled, the communalist will use you as a fulcrum for his politics. And the secular Hindu?…………… well, let him stand out and be counted. Rule of Law is very much his business too.

When the Monsoon session of Parliament opened, the Prime Minister invited opposition leaders for dinner. The BJP declined because of action against Gujarat Home Minister, Amit Shah. Result: not once was Amit Shah mentioned throughout the session by the ruling party. On foreign policy, Palestine, economy, Nuclear Liability, forward trading in food grains, Kashmir, Pakistan. Can you locate the dividing line between the BJP and the Congress? Also, remember the Ayodhya related dates: 1949, 1986, 1992 and now 2010 – Surely you know which party was in power on these dates, just as you know the Rath Yatris.

Step out of the Ayodhya arena. Justice Khan suggests, remember your Prophet at Hudaibiya. Then watch the intra-Hindu dynamics without anyone blaming you for communalism. Watchfully, take stock of friends and foes and respond electorally, in the most democratic manner available.

Ghalib said:
“Laag ho to usko hum samjhein lagao.
Jab na ho kuch bhi to dhoka khaaen kya.”
(If there was even an inclination, I would have accepted it as affection. When there is neither, why should I fool myself.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Between Caesar and God

Between Caesar and God
Saeed Naqvi

Premature punditry on the Ayodhya verdict is a little bit like writing commentaries on Shakespeare after only reading Lamb’s Tales

Rapid readers will take days and weeks to digest approximately10,000, 4,000 and 260 pages of the judgments on Ayodhya delivered by Justice Dharam Vir Sharma, Sudhir Aggarwal and Sibqat Ullah Khan, respectively.

An impression had been created by a sideshow in Lucknow since September 15 that somehow the judgment was going in favour of the Muslims. On that day Justice Sharma, an avid Ram Bhakt or devotee of Lord Rama, accepted an application that the judgment, due to be delivered by three judge bench on September 24, be deferred so that the parties to the dispute can arrive at out-of-court, compromise settlement. He did this without consulting the other two judges.

The matter reached a two judge bench of the Supreme Court which was divided on whether or not a compromise was possible. The quest for a compromise on an issue which had defied settlement for decades, indeed centuries, was seen as a desperate desire to “defer” the judgment – because deferment would, for a variety of reasons, be for years. The engine for deferment was an undiluted Ram Bhakt, Justice Sharma. He was on the bench and therefore knew exactly which way the judgment was inclined. Why else would he seek deferment? It was therefore assumed that the verdict was “not” going in favour of the Hindus. It followed, in simple minds, that it was probably favouring the Muslims.

It is against this background that the responses aired by the two sides so far must be placed. Hindus, who thought the tide was turning against them, are relieved at the verdict. This sense of relief is being given a “spin” of triumph. Conversely, Muslims, expecting victory, are disappointed.

Had Justice Sharma succeeded in “deferring” the verdict, the response of the Muslims would have been loaded with irony. They would then have nursed a grievance that the higher judiciary had denied them justice.

The astonishment handed down by the court is coming across as stunned reflection. Time, in any case, has proved a healer. Even though there was much hype, most of it generated by an otherwise restrained media, there was no frenzy.

The leaderless Muslim community, before it could reflect, was hustled into continued litigation by the lawyer for the Sunni Waqf Board, Zafaryab Geelani, who proclaimed that he would go in appeal to the Supreme Court. Good luck to Geelani and the Sunni Waqf Board. I propose an international award to him for having read, digested and produced a legal response to atleast 15,000 pages of legalese penned by the Ayodhya Bench. And he performed this feat within the space of three hours!

Where was the need to rush when the verdict itself gives three months to all sides to, first, read the judgment, then consider, deliberate, accept or appeal. The pre emptive announcement is a function of fear that alternative, possibly more sensible views might begin to emerge from within the Muslim community.

Let me give you the reaction of my mother, now 94, who lives in our village, Mustafabad in Rae Bareli. She was cryptic: “Saanmp marey, na laathi tootey” (Kill the snake; don’t break the stick). In other words, kill the “snake” of Hindu-Muslim tensions without breaking the stick. It is difficult to explain ancient aphorisms but the “stick” in her approach is Hindu-Muslim harmony.

Yusuf Muchhala, convener of the legal cell of the Sunni Waqf Board, says the three judgments appeared to be a “mix of facts, principles and mythology”. This may be a succinct observation but, like, Geelani he is making observations without having read the judgments, the reasoning behind what the lordships have concluded.

As far as I am concerned, I grew up in Lucknow and never heard of Babari Masjid until the locks to the temple were broken. The subsequent story is charged with communal politics – on both sides.

Ayodhya is both, a matter of Hindu faith and grist to the mill of communal politics so long as Muslims are the foil. That is the complication. Babari Masjid, on the other hand, is a matter of Muslim hurt. Scabs form over bruises. Wherever the Muslim turns towards Kaaba is his mosque. Reflect for a month. Think of ways to bring down the edifice of communal politics.

Unless the community disenges itself from the grip of backward leaders, it will be left holding, Babari Masjid, Shah Bano, Muslim character of Universities, Salman Rushdie, corrupt Waqf Boards, while the country and the world move on, into another zone almost.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Masochism and Commonwealth Games

Masochism and Commonwealth Games
Saeed Naqvi

The gratification derived from ones own humiliation is called Masochism. That this esoteric form of perversion would bubble over in such copious torrents on our TV screens, front pages of newspapers quite beats me.

During the test events in 2003 as a run upto Athens Olympic Games, a quarter of the volunteers quit due to transportation problems. E. Sreedharan, Managing Director of Delhi Metro, deserves applause for having put together an elegant, efficient Metro network in good time.

You would have to be blind not to see the pressure on our roads ease just a wee bit, despite the unprecedented rains.

Dogs who peed in beds Athletes would have occupied have also been in the news. Did you know that Athens authorities did not know what to do with 60,000 or so stray dogs one of whom bit the Ukraine Archery coach in the midst of a competition?

An outbreak of Salmonella led to the German rowing team from pulling out of the test events. A month before the games, Athens was hit by a massive power outage. The Greek Transport Minister was stranded while showcasing the test run of the Olympic rail link connecting Central Athens to the airport. At CWG weightlifting stadium, the ceiling would have to fall on Suresh Kalmadi’s head to compare with this one.

Ofcourse, the games were covered in the most positive light by the Western media. Remember, Greece is the very fount of Western civilization!

Contrast this with the all out war by the same media on the Beijing Olympics. A strand of hair a reporter found at an eatery was telecast worldwide as a gastronomical catastrophe.

Pall of dust from storms arising in Mongolia were described as lung busting pollution. When Beijing mounted the most spectacular show the world had ever seen, the same great media covered it, tail between legs, weakly applauding.

I am not for a moment suggesting that public anger at CWG mismanagement is misplaced. Excess of it is, when the baby is thrown out with the bath water. Those awkward smile of anchors, a sort of disguised self denigration, is actually a function of acute inferiority complex which has deep roots in colonialism and beyond. How we are, is not important; how the West sees us is. This “us” is exactly the rootless middle class which has not progressed beyond the lady who told V.S. Naipul in The Area of Darkness: “I am craze for foreign; simply craze for foreign”. In fact this middle class, aspiring from Maruti to Mercedez, has got much worse. It is totally disengaged from Bharat, 70 percent of which, as the Arjun Sen Gupta report has made famous, lives on less than Rs.20 a day! It is the top 30 percent who are going hysterical at photographs of toilets that have appeared in Britain. Oh! What will they think of us?

Lalit Bhanot of the Organizing Committee, of course, does not know that personal hygiene is an eastern virtue. The Inquisition in Spain, among its first acts, shut the Hamams in Cordoba. Mozart’s brothers died because bathing them with water was a taboo! English Kings carried their own “piss pots”. Sorry, their servants did.

And why blame the new middle class. What about our elite. Name an Indian Editor whose photographs would appear in Western publications. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, was all over our newspapers even as his fawning Indian hosts looked on. Why, junior anchors like Zain Vergi were all over the feature pages because they had come down to us from their BBC, CNN elevation.

Five mainstream Indian newspapers regularly publish, several times a week, columnists from New York Times, The Guardian or Newsweek. These publications do not have a single regular Indian columnists. Such intellectual servility!

And do you know the obstacles in the way of cleaning up the toilets in the games village? In our entire hospitality sector there is no system to hire toilet cleaners who can be promoted, say, to barmen, waiters, lobby managers. Toilet cleaner is a toilet cleaner – Mehtar, bhangi.

Deviously, the sector has approached a Malaysian company which hires the lowest in our caste structure and as part of a contract, then loans out their services to the service Industry.

Face these realities, twit! These are more embarrassing than the falling of a tile. Incidentally learn Kar seva, dignity of any labour, from Sikhs.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to Square One on Kashmir

Back to Square One on Kashmir
Saeed Naqvi

Wednesday’s all-party meeting on Kashmir followed the Cabinet Committee on Security, which dithered on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but said something about “governance deficit” in the state which, in simple English, means that the state Government is incompetent, weak or indifferent. The all-party meet was silent on that one. I am not for a moment suggesting that the participants had been gagged by Rahul Gandhi, who, by hint and gesture, had given his support to Omar Abdullah. Now that he has come out openly in his support, it will be interesting to see whether this reinforcement enables Omar to control the Valley.

The Wednesday meet in New Delhi must have been preceded by some back channel dialogue. The biggest success of the meeting is a matter of considerable significance: for the first time the PDP attended a meeting called by New Delhi.

Why has it taken New Delhi six weeks to hold such a conclave? Violence was expected on Eid day. 17 people died. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah all but threw up his hands.

It all seemed so manageable when I was driving up and down parts of the valley early June. Hotels were full. Queues for a gondola ride up to the higher reaches of Gulmarg were so large you needed a taxi to slot yourself at the very end. Roads looked ample, well paved (much better than parts of New Delhi these days) and the newer houses could well have been located in some of the posh colonies of India’s capital. Hunger was not an issue.

The chain of restaurants with an unlikely name, Hat Trick, had spread to over a dozen locations in Srinagar. Some of the management and kitchen staff were non Kashmiri. “Because our men prefer Government jobs,” a professor of political science at the Kashmir University explained. This fixation on “Government jobs” resembles an all-India fixation about 30 years ago when only “Government jobs” were considered secure enough in the controlled marriage market.

All of this normalcy was in large measure neutralised by check posts, sentries, Constantine wires and soldiers ringing the mountains, not always visible but always in everybody’s knowledge.

As for the Kashmiri angst, that anti-India sentiment, it is a phenomenon which waxes and wanes, but is always there. The gloomy turn of events in Pakistan, unfortunate for that country, have denied the Kashmiri of an occasionally flourished Pakistani option. Here was a chance for New Delhi to reach out to people nursing various degrees of grievances since 1953.

Oh, the anger of youth whether in newspaper offices or in university auditoriums! Why can’t “Bharat” let us be? Why are we in this prison house? Do you know that every house in the valley has a painful story to tell? Where was the Chief Minister during Shopian? There are mini Shopians strewn across the state. Do you know all this?

Sometimes their anger may have been unreasonable. But give them an honest, sincere, hearing and they are willing to be mollified. In fact they bought me a meal just outside the campus — at Hat Trick.

There was no anger with Omar Abdullah then. Yes, Srinagar journalists had begun to call him Pilot Project II. The implication was that just as the late Rajesh Pilot was a “buddy” of Farooq Abdullah, so is Sachin Pilot a close friend of Omar’s. Indeed Sachin’s wife is Omar’s sister. Pilot projects were mentioned with humour.

I would be lying if I did not mention one common complaint. Since Omar’s children study in a school in New Delhi, his wife has to live with the kids. This involves his having to spend his weekends in New Delhi — from Friday noon to Monday. As the administration moves to Jammu for six months of winter, the weekly absence of the Chief Minister leaves the valley without an on-hand administrator for extended spells.

It can be nobody’s case that this is a happy state of affairs, particularly when the valley is in the grip of unspeakable anger and violence which has taken a toll in lives which could soon touch 100.

It is my belief that both father and son, Farooq and Omar, are not sufficiently “provincial” to manage a province. They are cosmopolitan men with considerable potential on the national turf — and we are short of such personalities on the national stage. Imagine Omar campaigning alongside Rahul Gandhi throughout the country. The minority vote would be electrified — as would voters across the spectrum.

Well, the all party meet has accorded Omar protection to the extent that, if he can, he has a brief chance to redeem himself. It may not have been said but he should know that is the case.

Otherwise, state, and National Conference political dynamics will take their toll. The NC block president in Tanmarg had taken out the procession in which five people were killed. Will the NC not be in turmoil on this issue? What does the NC Chief Minister have to say?

As for New Delhi, the less said the better for its profound inaction. But now that it has stirred, let us keep our fingers crossed.

So far administrative inefficiency, absence of focus, irrelevance of possible moderates like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have given oxygen to the hardliners. Mirwaiz was invited by New Delhi for “top secret” talks. Then the story was leaked. Mirwaiz’s credibility came hurtling down. And now an FIR against him will not make him a David standing up to the Delhi Goliath!

But slowly, as Kashmir comes sharper into the PMO’s focus, with a possible setting up of a Special Task Force for Kashmir, one must take recourse to all the optimism which lies somewhere at the bottom as a residue.

But let’s not forget, for the politically motivated among the Kashmir protesters an almighty global audience is in readiness. The UN General Assembly meets soon.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

The Stuck Afghan Turnstile

The Stuck Afghan Turnstile
Saeed Naqvi

Ever since I have returned from Kabul, I am frequently asked by friends: when are the Americans leaving? When I say, “I don’t know”. I am dismissed like someone who has wasted his time in Afghanistan and returned without finding an answer to a universal query.

Even though President Barak Obama remains committed to July 2011, as the date for withdrawing American troops, those whose job it will be to supervise this withdrawal have introduced caveats:

That July 2011 is not cast in stone; withdrawals will be conditioned by the situation on the ground; only combat troops will be withdrawn; Afghan National Army has to be ready to takeover and so on.

While Gen. Stan McCrystal openly stated that a high profile in Kabul by New Delhi distracts Pakistan from its war-on-terror focus, even Gen. David Petraeus has done his bit to keep Pakistan humoured by talking privately of India’s “Cold start“ doctrine, a doctrine buried in Indian military archives, never mentioned in serious Indian discourse. But Islamabad has been able to sell this lemon to Petraeus until such time as the US switches off on this one – possibly near the Obama visit.

Augmentation by 30,000 troops has taken place. That is a fact. Withdrawal will depend on a variety of factors – including how well the “surge” works. That is speculation.

The Bonn Conference, convened by the UN Secretary General, set up, in President Obama’s words, “a provisional” government under President Hamid Karzai.

But that “provisional government” has lasted nine years. Indeed, at the July 20, 2010 Kabul Conference, convened by the UN, Karzai almost established his indispensability by obtaining a mandate (from the conference) that he would continue as President until 2014.

If President Karzai is to remain in Kabul till 2014, surely he will require protection till then. If US and NATO are to start withdrawing in 2011 or even 2012, given the caveats listed above, there will still be need for Karzai to be protected or accorded safe passage. Surely it is nobody’s case that by 2014 Karzai will capture the hearts and minds of all Afghans. We have some sort of script until 2014. But the script could change after the 2012 US Presidential elections.

Yes, mounting death toll (2000 coalition soldiers) and costs of war ($ 337.8 billion) against the backdrop of a declining western economy, are all good reasons for the US to leave Afghanistan.

Supposing, the death toll is brought down to, say, double digits annually and the costs of combat are substantially reduced, will the Americans still leave?

According to Russian estimate there are 30 US bases in Afghanistan. Of these, the ones at Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandhar, Helmand, Shindand (Herat), Mazar-e-Sharif are, by the sheer volume of masonry and architecture, not temporary. These bases will remain. Are we then talking about a qualified departure?

If the US is actually plotting departure, why is it building a consulate in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif on a scale which would dwarf large embassies. Renaissance is the only reasonable hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif. An entire section has been transformed into a dormitory for labour working on the US consulate. To the two gigantic blocks in the fortified embassy in Kabul with 700 personnel, a larger block is being added! US diplomats and Army officers in large numbers are learning Pushto and Darri back in the US.

If all these preparations for an extended non combat stay in Afghanistan are, in some parlance, tantamount to military departure, so be it. The US was to have left Iraq. But 50,000 will remain in the various bases which are, ultimately, like country houses – open the locks and they are fully functional again.

I have seen the US, after 72 days of relentless bombing of Serbia, create an independent state of Kosovo. But while departing they left behind Bond Steel, then the largest US base since the Vietnam War, in Kosovo, abutting Macedonia. Also, an entire hill had been taken over in Skopje, capital of Macedonia, to build an embassy larger than a medium size Indian Fort. Guarding energy routes from the Black Sea or elsewhere are one obvious strategic interest in this area.

Russians must be digging in likewise in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Supply lines to these bases will have to be secured. This means control over Karachi port and reports from Karachi are incrementally alarming. The rest of the route from Karachi through Balochistan to Afghanistan is never too far from Taleban and Al Qaeda friendly areas whether in Quetta or in Kandahar. This leads to another major US requirement: the security of Pakistan, at present fighting on multiple fronts. The unprecedented floods are aggravating all these fronts.

The supply route also gives Islamabad considerable leverage over the US. But to retain this leverage Pakistan must have control over this strategic territory. This leads to finger pointing at real or imaginary “mischief” from India. Balochistan’s border with Iran has occasionally livened up. What is not discussed sufficiently is the internal instability, the insurgency in Balochistan.

In the absence of alternative supply routes, Americans have an abiding interest in Baloch indeed, Pak stability. There is, of course, no dearth of theorists suggesting this route may also have a diversionary potential toward the Gawadar port the Chinese are building.

After listening to all this, my friends ask: But when are the Americans leaving?

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak
Saeed Naqvi

It is not a matter of four, eleven or all Pakistani cricketers failing the morality test. It reflects on a nation where the inner fibre is ruptured, a rudderless people, a system in putrid decay, an inner collapse being monitored closely from above, as if from a geostationary flying station, call it the Rawalpindi GHQ.

In geological time, when man reflects on the region so fertile in cricketing genius and so much else, there will be a footnote on the Army: it lost East Pakistan and then, in cussed pursuit of perpetuating itself, liquidated all that remained. The rot set in real deep during Gen. Zia ul Haq days.

When the first Pakistan cricket team under skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar visited India in the 50s, my autograph hunting years, a test match was allotted to Lucknow. The team stayed at the Royal hotel, now some kind of an office block. In those days Lucknow had three very Anglaise hotels – Carlton, Royal and Burlington.

In the middle of a large, open lounge at the Royal, was a semicircular bar, occupied by some of the Pak cricketers. A constable or two (for that was all the law and order machinery required those days) kept at bay a motley crowd of students, mostly from the nearby Islamia college, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Hanif Mohammad a 16 year old batting sensation, and others like Fazal Mahmood and Maqsood Ahmad.

Some of the boys, one Habib among them, an off break bowler at Lucknow’s famous Morning Star Club, found their way to the bar through a cavernous route from the pantry. Habib buttonhold Maqsood even as Maxi (as he was called) tried to balance his beer mug, froth spilling over.

“Aap ko sharm nahin aati, Musalman hote hue sharab peetey hain?” (You should be ashamed of yourself – drinking even though you are Muslim.)

This was not fundamentalism versus enlightenment. It was more of a class thing. Here was a cricketer from North India’s most cosmopolitan hub, Lahore, facing a provincial hick from Lucknow, in decay since 1857. They were both Muslims representing distinct social evolutions, conditioned by acceptance or aversion to Western education. Government college Lahore accepted it; Islamia college Lucknow didn’t.

These distinctions have remained in Pakistani society to this day. Maqsood was always in a minority in Pakistan as in most Muslim societies. But it was this minority which determined the social tempo in Lahore, Islamabad even Karachi despite Karachi’s socially variegated spread.

Maqsood (poor fellow had to admit to Habib) was not averse to Namaz or Ramadan. In this he was rather better than Ghalib who, when asked by the Magistrate to state his religion, replied: “I am half a Muslim; I drink but don’t eat pork”.

Waris Ali Shah, the Pir of Dewa Sharif, the splendid Sufi shrine outside Lucknow, had a remarkable reason for not saying his Namaz. “There is no space to go down in supplication” he said, “He is in me”.

There was space in Pakistan for open discourse upto the Zia period. It is from Zia’s Pakistan that poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz began to leave for other countries. From London, Farigh Bukhari wailed:
“ Ab to yun lagta hai Farigh, ki ayaz an billah,
Jaise Islam Yazidon ke liye aaya ho!”
(God, forgive me: these days it seems that Islam was only for tyrants and murderers like Yazid)

The faith Farigh laments was foisted on Pakistan by Zia partly to atone for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder, but much more to consolidate the Idea of Pakistan, as he saw it, a confirmation of the two-nation theory, that Pakistan was created because the sub continent’s Muslims could not live with them, the “Kafirs”. “We are because we cannot live with them.”

The theory was punctured, if not exactly buried, within 24 years of the nation’s founding.

The Punjab dominated army came down so hard on the East Bengalis for having won the election of 1970, that India’s intervention was sought to help create Bangladesh in 1971.

Now, relative to the terrain it had to look after, the Army became disproportionately larger. An army so huge for what purpose? To sustain the two-nation theory, ofcourse, now with greater vigour, to justify itself.

Bangladesh was just one blow to the two-nation theory. The bigger one was the survival of the world’s second largest Muslim population in India.

The great cultural commerce on the sub continent which has embellished both Islamic and Hindu cultures with shared motifs had, in Zia’s framework, to be terminated by a policy of a “perpetual” war with India. Pakistan has to dress itself in a West Asian, Saudi, double distilled Islam. Towards this end Maqsood, Ghalib, Waris Ali Shah, Faiz, Faraz, Farigh Bukhari, all had to be repudiated.

So now we have, in Ahmad Rashid’s words, “the mother of all insurgencies in seven tribal agencies”. Gunmen slaughtered 100 Ahamdias. Hundreds of Shia are killed in mosques routinely. Some days ago devotees of the Wahabi school blew themselves to kill dozens, wound 100s in a Shia religious procession. Ethnic political and sectarian violence takes the toll of a 100 in Karachi, the entry port for supplies to US troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mister ten percent, Asif Zardari will not budge. Politicians and their minions are making money like there will be no tomorrow. Sensible Pakistanis, who I believe are still in a majority, watch the country sink and queue up outside western embassies for visas, never to return. In cricket, a home series is played in England.

A sense of doom prevails and tragically, one of the great finds of swing bowling, Mohammad Aamer, sings his swan song at 18.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Farce and Facts for Obama

Farce and Facts for Obama
Saaed Naqvi

When I heard that President Barak Obama would address a joint session of Parliament during his November visit, a chill ran down my spine. Images of President Bill Clinton’s foray into the Central Hall of Parliament during his visit in March 2000, for exactly one such exercise, swam into my ken, vivid and real.

President Clinton was first ringed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, Speaker Balyogi and Ex Prime Minister Dewe Gowda who clasped Clinton’s right hand in both his hands and wouldn’t let go.

This obstructed the US President circulating among the peoples’ representatives, generating panic among them: were they going to miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of shaking hands with a real life US President? Don’t forget, Clinton at that stage had acquired an indescribable aura after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

That this aura or halo is not available to Obama does not in any way diminish chances of scenes being repeated in Central Hall reminiscent of the March 2000 event.

As happens at the Kumbh or distribution of langar at a shrine, one unidentifiable MP broke the imaginary cordon. This opened the floodgates. Pressure exerted by the last backbencher, created waves which first encircled Balyogi, a short man, who got lost in the melee like a ball in a rugby scrum.

Over the speaker’s frame, by now horizontal, hands reached out to touch Clinton like he were a deity or a Dul-dul in a Moharram procession. I am not exaggerating: members clambered onto members for a touch.

That is why I shudder at the thought of history repeating itself when in November Obama is exposed to the exuberance of Indian Parliamentarians.

No such enthusiasm was on show when, say, President Jimmy Carter visited New Delhi in 1979. This was not because Carter did not possess Clinton’s sex appeal. The difference lies elsewhere: Carter represented America in a bipolar world. Also, he represented the US in post Vietnam retreat.

Clinton exuded the confidence of a nation which had defeated the Soviet Union exactly a decade ago.

Also, it should not be forgotten that throughout the 43 year tilt towards the Soviet Union, the Indian establishment, as it were – industry, newspapers – never severed their western affiliations. It is generally not noticed that Indian newspapers never posted correspondents in Moscow, but they did to London and Washington.

This was strange because Indian journalist in those days had no access at any level in either London or Washington. Had there been news bureaus in Moscow, Indian journalists would have had access to the Central Committee. Newspaper owners did not allow then and do not allow now the media to waver away from the West, an attitude probably embedded in the battle of Plassey!

This explains the post Soviet lurch towards the US, sometimes inelegant, as symbolized by that scene in Central Hall.

Compare Ambassador “Tikky” Kaul’s elevated status in Moscow, for example, with the mortifications of an Indian Ambassador in Washington, right upto the 90s. Mortification may be a strong word but that is what it amounted to when someone of distinction, say, Nani Palkhivala, is posted as ambassador to Washington. The red carpet is rolled out to the ramp of the aircraft for the outward journey. But upon landing, the Ambassador looks out for a reception, which is simply not there.

Palkhivala, like others before him, had taken upon himself the task of “sacking” Mister Ganju, lobbyist, media adviser, an all purpose handyman parked in the embassy as B.K. Kaul’s protégé during the latter’s term as ambassador. Kauls came and went but Ganju went on forever.

So, Palkhivala decided to cut him short. Then something predictable happened. A realization dawned on the Indian Ambassador that Washington DC was taking no note of him. As if on cue, Ganju surfaced with his magic potion, the panacaea for ambassadors feeling neglected in Washington.

The lady who resided with Ben Bradlee, the powerful editor of Washington Post, was Sally Quin who, from that vantage point, wrote an influential gossip column. With an imagination that would put Jeeves to shame, Ganju arranged for Sally Quin to materialize at the ambassador’s dinner.

Next morning was, for the ambassador, the sunniest in every sense of the term, ever since he arrived. There, in real print, were glowing references to the cuisine at the Indian ambassador’s residence in Sally Quin’s column dignified by the Washington Post. I believe Ganju stayed on for a few more terms, until Indian economy was unshackled by Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and India became a big enough player to afford high profile lobbyists on the Hill and elsewhere. The Indian Ambassador became among the most sought after diplomats in Washington.

Remember, Clinton came here as the leader of a victorious West. Obama is saddled with two wasteful wars and an economy which Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says is in “Freefall”. Germany in Europe and China globally are the risen economic powers. Is India somewhere there?

There is another truth the Obama team must have taken note of: India is the only country, along with Israel, with an abiding nostalgia for the Bush years. Why? It would be nice to know from his team – how they decipher this one.

Also, it is becoming ever more transparent, in Washington as well as in India, that governments elected by the people are increasingly immobilized by entrenched establishments which are not answerable to the people. Is this not exactly the opposite of democratic progress?

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Monday, August 23, 2010

A Possible Taleban interlocutor

A Possible Taleban interlocutor
Saeed Naqvi

The unspeakable tragedy of the floods in Pakistan, on a scale unknown to man, has dwarfed much else in the region: 100 shot dead in three days of political, ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi, the cloudburst in Leh, the Koochi (Pushotoon shepherds) and Hazara clashes, ironically, in Kabul’s Darul Aman or haven of peace.

Before I meander, let me focus on just one image, here in Kabul, which may provide a clue (among other such clues) to the Afghan jigsaw.

Through a maze of contacts, I am invited to meet Mullah Abdus Salaam Zaeef who, at 42, is a veteran of dramatic experiences of a variety that makes fiction riveting. An orphan, he joined the ranks of the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets. He was then 15, fresh from a Madrasa in Pakitan where his relatives had fled to escape the “Soviets”.

Mullah Omar, whom he even today refers to as Amirul Momineen, or the chief of the faithful, became his mentor and friend. Obviously, he left such an impression on Mullah Omar and others in the Al Qaeda – Taleban leadership that when the Taleban came to power in Kabul in 1996, Mullah Abdus Salaam Zaeef was posted as the Taleban ambassador to Islamabad. There were similar Taleban representations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but not Washington, leaving the US with suitable deniability of any affiliations with the “fundamentalists”. It is another matter that “fundamentalist” delegations made routine beelines to George Bush and his affiliates in Texas. UNICOL, I think, was not quite dead at that stage.

Fast forward to 9/11 and pictures of Donald Rumsfelt at Tora-Bora mountains pointing at the caves, flames leaping out: “Do you think they are cooking cookies in there?” He meant Oslama bin Laden was hatching plots in those caves. He probably was.

Zaeef dutifully addressed press conferences outside his embassy in Islamabad. Then, in December, President Musharraf made a U-turn, joined the war on terror and remained George W. Bush’s “most trusted ally” to the very end.

As a prelude to the Bush – Musharraf romance, the ISI promptly handed Mullah Zaeef to the US Forces who ferried him to Guantanamo Bay. His four year stint at this facility is now a book – in Guantanamo. He then wrote another book on his years with Taleban.

So, here I am at his two storey house protected by armed guards in an officially provided cabin outside the door.

I am escorted to the terrace, lined with flower pots, a green synthetic carpet spread wall to wall.

Mullah Zaeef is a tall, burly man with a thick, bushy beard, blending with his black turban. There are no chairs. Taleban austerity, I suppose. We recline against colourful, rectangular cushions, bloated with extra stuffing of cotton.

As an opening gambit, I settle for the topic most current: negotiations with the Taleban.

Who will you negotiate with: I ask.

“When NATO Generals and ambassadors ask me that question I say: “Americans should negotiate with the people they are fighting – Taleban”.

What about President Hamid Karzai? I continue.

“He is only an instrument of the Americans”.

But Gen. David Petraeus, the US Force Commander, Pakistan’s Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and President Karzai have been meeting to work out the modalities of negotiations.

“Negotiations are possible but only with the Americans” he persists.

Surely, Gen. Kayani and the ISI will insist on a role. After all, the ISI has invested so much in Afghanistan over the past 30 years.

“The CIA has invested; the ISI has spent a fraction of that investment”, he does not even pause to think.

Are you saying that Pakistan has no role in negotiating peace in Afghanistan?

“None whatsoever” he continues. “Afghan Taleban are fighting the Americans; Pakistan Taleban are fighting the Pakistan government.”

“Pakistan Taleban or Afghan Taleban have no quarrel with the Pakistan nation, the people. The fight is with their Intelligence agency, with their government.”

I come to the point directly. The Pakistan Army has been talking to the Haqqani group which is extending its influence in Afghanistan.

“There are no talks with Haqqani”. Who knows, Gen. Petraeus may be right that there is no monolithic Taleban group, just a syndicate of groups. For Mullah Zaeef, the ultimate Taleban leader is Mullah Omar. Can I meet Mullah Omar? I ask him.

“Extremely dangerous these days” he says.

Throughout the 90 minute conversation, what comes across is his total distrust of Pakistan. If you wish to see this cool man lose his composure, draw him out on Pakistan’s control on Taleban in Afghanistan.

“They cannot be trusted. It was from their air bases, that the Americans first struck Afghanistan. They facilitated the US troop movements. And do you think they will let the US leave? Do you know that Balochistan is the critical supply route for US Afghan operations? Will Pakistan ever give up this source of income and, above all, control on the Americans”.

By now he is virtually frothing in the mouth.

“Even Israelis are not as harsh with their prisoners as the Pakistanis are. The torture our people have suffered….”. Remarkably, he said all this on TV.

“First they entertained me as Ambassador, then handed me over to the Americans like an ordinary criminal. Why?” he explodes. The next government in Afghanistan will be neutral between Indian and Pakistan.

For perspective, let me explain where Mullah Zaeef stands in the Taleban hierarchy.w

Quite as important as Mullah Zaeef were Taleban Foreign Minister and Representative to the UN, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil and Abdel Hakim Mujahid respectively.

After the September elections, we may hear these names as possible interlocutors, if there are to be negotiations, that is.

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