Monday, April 26, 2010

Tharoor and sundry “baba log”

Tharoor and sundry “baba log”
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 24.04.2010

It was clear as daylight that Shashi Tharoor, Junior Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs, would not last on the lofty perch provided for him by the ruling Congress Party.

Slopes are meant to ascend, of course, but also to descend. However, gliding from the higher echelons of the United Nations to public life in India, a mind of insufficient suppleness may be forgiven for being a little confused between ascent and descent, status enhancement or status reversal. Tharoor was never certain whether Indian politics was a good enough fallback position once he had lost the top job at the UN. This uncertainty was at the bottom of his casual attitude towards politics.

IPL was only the trigger. Tharoor fell victim to a common failing. He completely misread New Delhi, its social seductions which can so easily lull eager beavers into a sense of false security. If feet are not planted firmly on the ground, the heady social swing, the pretentious sham of shallow movers and shakers, can sweep you off your feet. And feet can never be firmly planted either in Thiruvanthapuram or New Delhi, if you have lived half your life in the United States of America. Tharoor fell because he could not adjust.

The case of Shashi Tharoor has lessons for the political establishment.

Lateral inductions from the corporate sector and elsewhere into parties have come under scrutiny particularly since the days of Rajiv Gandhi. It is commonly known that politics was more or less thrust on Rajiv after Sanjay Gandhi’s death in an air crash.

An IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, V.S. Tripathi was identified to guide him into the ways of the world during Indira Gandhi’s lifetime. At that stage Rajiv was comfortable with a small circle of friends like “Thud” (abbreviation for Thadani) Arun Singh and Vijay Dhar.

“Doscos” (from Doon School) crawled out of the woodworks to take up slots in journalism, tourism and advisory positions around Rajiv Gandhi only after he became Prime Minister.

The list of those who made a career out of sharing the dormitory with Rajiv Gandhi at Doon School is long. But some talents did surface. Among them Mani Shankar Aiyar – successful IFS officer in his own right, qualified to be Rajiv’s media man for many reasons. Also he had worked with Indira Gandhi’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting. An excellent speaker, writer, and, unlike the apolitical “baba log”, political to the core, having dabbled in Left politics at Cambridge. He is the only one of the Rajiv generation who is obstinately Nehruvian.

Mani’s greatest weaknesses, ironically, are his many strengths. Mir Taqi Mir sums up Mani’s difficulties in these words:
“Hai aib bada usmein jise
Kuch hunar aaway!”
(A man of exceptional talents is always feared by his peers)

The point I am making is that youngsters who clustered around Rajiv were largely political careerists, but for the exceptions I have mentioned. Surely careerists could not be expected to inject idealism into Indian public life. In fact not many of them even had the stamina to survive in politics, exceptions like Kamal Nath notwithstanding.

Intellectual ideas during the freedom struggle were mostly nurtured in leftist crucibles, with Jawaharlal Nehru as the secular symbol of this school. Tilak, Sardar Patel, Purshottam Das Tandon, Morarji Desai represented Indian nationalism, finely poised on the edge of “Hindu nationalism”.

The context of the breakdown of feudalism, concurrent with the national movement, strengthened the appeal of the left to the educated and in many cases unemployed youth who gravitated towards Left parties, the Left wing of the Congress, socialists. Some of them sparkled in Parliament as Hiren Mukerjee, H.V. Kamath, Bhupesh Gupta, Ram Manohar Lohia, Nath Pai. The Hindi belt sent up its own brilliant speakers like Atal Behari Vajpayee and Prakash Veer Shastri.

Subsequent to this generation, the intake of idealistic youth into public life dried up with the onset of political corruption of which the IPL is only the tiniest tributary.

The second generation rural elite, new to wealth and power, concentrated on contracts for canals, culverts and coal mines.

The Maruti-plus middle class, part of the celebrated 300 million Indians on the make, was completely oblivious of the 70% (seventy percent) of Indian in poverty.

For the new political class, the catchment area for young political recruits was restricted to the above categories. Since recruits from these group were creatures of market avarice, the handful of “decent” leaders left in, say, the Congress Party, encouraged lateral inductions, Tharoor, for instance, to give the party a wholesome visage.

These inductions were resisted by the party lineup (quietly, slyly) which since independence has acquired a positive and a negative characteristic: it is increasingly homespun and aggressively corrupt. “Good schooling” therefore sticks out like a sore thumb in this grouping.

In a famous story, one of Rajiv Gandhi’s political advisers, from the ranks of the “baba log”, was asked if he knew the language people of Jais in Rae Bareli constituency spoke. With great authority he retorted: “Bhojpuri I suppose!” The exchange rook place a furlong away from the grave of Malik Mohammad Jaisi, author of Padmavat, one of the greatest classics of Avadhi literature! Jaisi predates Tulsidas among Avadhi poets.

I am not for a moment suggesting that Tharoor does not know Malyalam or that he is not familiar with Swati Thirunal. My point is that the young inductees to have credibility will have to know more about the debt trap which drives farmers to suicides rather than the garish razzle dazzle of IPL. They will have to vibe with the tribals of Chattisgarh and Orissa who are holding onto their lands rich in minerals on which are set the eyes of the corporate world.

A national poll in universities and colleges on the tribal-Maoist combine versus the State may throw up a new catchment area for durable political inductees.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Postmortem: Incredible Case the media never covered

Postmortem: Incredible Case the media never covered
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 17.04.2010

“…… Since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous.
As I am subtle, false and treacherous.”
Richard III
William Shakespeare

The frightful figure that followed Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik for eight long years and nearly wrecked his marriage with tennis star Sania Mirza, is neither fable nor fiction but something in between. A fraud! Yes, that is the truth about Ayesha Siddiqui. Interchangeably, “Maha Aapa” and Ayesha. Jekyll and Hyde.

The story has been put together after speaking to scores of people who know the Siddiqui family in Jeddah and Hyderabad.

The story begins in Jeddah, an hour’s drive from the holy city of Mecca.

Mohammad Ahmad Siddiqui from Hyderabad found a job with Saudi Arabian Airlines, and worked his way up to become Secretary to the Airlines Managing Director. With his wife, Fareesa, Siddiqui moved to Saudi City, the airline’s Housing complex.

Saudi sources confirm that in 1972, a daughter was born to the couple. They named her Naghma but her pet name is Raabiya. Next year, on October 6, 1973, the second daughter, Maha was born and given Ayesha as her pet name. This Ayesha is now 37 years of age, pertinent to this narrative. The deftness with which she glides from Maha to Ayesha and back to Maha is germane to the story.

The two sisters join the Indian Embassy School. Maha (pet name Ayesha, remember) applied for a teaching job in a Jeddah school. She said she had passed her “O” levels from the British School.

Within months she reveals herself to be a talented teacher and a smart liar. She had never passed her “O” levels from the British school – indeed, she had never been to the British school. Records at the Indian embassy school reveal that Maha had “not cleared class VIII eight.” But her employers at the new Hala school found her “an outstanding teacher.”

At this stage Maha’s weight was 160 kgs two and a half time more than Shoaib’s. As a reaction to Maha’s extraordinary bulk, Naghma kept her weight down to a point that she became Anorexic.

In 1997, Naghma married Imtiaz Ahmad Qadri. Sibling rivalries, at times violent, caused Ayesha to plot a “romance” and a “marriage”, her 160 kg weight notwithstanding.

In a Chekhov story a girl writes letters to herself which are leaked deliberately to fake social and amorous acceptability. Family friend in Jeddah say it was something on these lines that Maha’s mind was working.

In 2000, an opportunity was contrived when the Pakistan cricket team visited Sharjah. Maha Aapa turned up at the hotel and sat in the lobby café with her two Hyderabad cousins, Mona and Reema. By a happy chance Shoaib, staying in the same hotel, left his room keys in the lobby.

Here was an opportunity to call him up (the floor manager had already opened his room) that his room keys were with her. In a Jekyll and Hyde act, Maha Aapa was now on the phone as the “sexy” Ayesha. Offer to return the keys transformed itself into a conversation, exchange of phone numbers, more conversations – sexier by the minute. Titillation became love which reached orgasmic zones with the arrival of photographs supposed to be those of “Ayesha”, who as we know is the same person as “Maha Aapa”. The pix, therefore, are of some fictitious figure.

A friend of Maha’s in Jeddah says:
“She has a genius for changing her voice. She can speak like a man, a woman, a child, a courtesan, anything.” This talent of hers is commonly known in her circles in Jeddah and Hyderabad.

The disembodied sexy voice says she will “meet him” only after they have married. This is how the incredible marriage was “solemnized” in 2002. The so called “Nikahnama” or marriage certificate the media was flourishing pertains to this ridiculous non-event.

On that Nikahnama – defunct since it was never registered -, did the media recognized the name of the Qazi in Hyderabad. Has anyone spoken to him?

Also, has anyone seen “Ayesha’s” date of birth? Her real date of birth, October 1973, makes her, ten years older than Pakistan’s former cricket captain.

On March 29, 2005, the Pakistan team was to play a match in Hyderabad. Shoaib, by now a bit of a laughing stock among his team mates, extracted from his “telephonic wife” a promise that she will attend a reception his team would organize for the couple in a Hyderabad hotel.

At the reception, some of Ayesha’s cousins, friends and “Maha Aapa” materialized. “Maha Aapa” knew the trick choreography but others in the entourage were obviously impressed with Shoaib Malik’s anxious gaze on the door waiting for his unseen bride, Ayesha. Just then the phone rings. Ayesha says she will “try” to come even though she has fever because of a “severe attack of mumps”.

The team gulps! They have to play a match the next day. Please call off the reception they said in unison. “Mumps is the world’s most infectious disease”. Maha Aapa also agreed. The story of the unseen bride takes another extension.

Later, Shoaib Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yunus Khan, among others, turned up in Jeddah where they were to play a match on July 22, 2005.

The players suggested, and Shoaib’s “wife” agreed, (telephonically, of course), that a restaurant on the sea front would be an ideal rendezvous.

The team arrives on July 22 but on July 18, the bride buys two tickets on Saudi Airlines and flees.

Why two tickets? Because she could never fit into a single seat of an economy class. Even a club class seat was an uncomfortable fit.

It was at this stage that Shoaib, looking silly in front of his team, decided “there had been no marriage” with a woman so elusive, a sort of variation on Macbeth’s dagger, “palpable to sound” but impalpable to touch or sight.

Meanwhile, the parallel drama of her Anorexic sister proceeded on a different note of high drama. First, her husband, Imtiaz, after three years in “the unpleasant family”, quietly left for Bangalore. Second husband Dr. Mohammad Abdul Haseeb was hospitalized with acute schizophrenia. Now she is settled in Hyderabad with her third husband, Ali, evidently ten years her junior.

Records show that Indian former captain and Congress MP, Mohammad Azharuddin had a rub with the Siddiqui family. They were once close friends.

Azharuddin’s first wife’s brother, Nausheed, reported to the police that the Siddiqui family was harassing him with crank calls. The police came into the picture.

Hyderabad media has to investigate whether the two sisters and mother were ever in police lock up? Sources say they were, but the fact needs to be confirmed.

Also, why was Shoaib’s passport taken from him? To harass him? Since the media gave the story an Indo-Pak twist, the Siddiqui’s were able to mobilize the police. Some money changed hands? How much? A hotelier arranged for the cash – in crores. What is the hotelier’s name?

Above all, why did Shoaib stage the marriage drama in the city where he had his fingers burnt so severely. Also, is Sania comfortable marrying such an obvious simpleton?

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Monday, April 12, 2010

A Case For the “Devil”?

A Case For the “Devil”?
Saeed Naqvi

Dated: 10.04.2010

If you keep your ears close to the ground in Maoist terrains, the buzz could well be about impending engagements with the security forces along the Chattisgarh – Orrisa fault line. For that very reason, pre emptive action by Maoists could well take place in a different, unexpected location to scatter the forces and leave them flat-footed.

There is symbolic consistency in the fact the Maoists and the Security forces are playing out this bloodiest of chess games in an area which for centuries has been called “Abujhmarh” by the native tribals. “Abujh” means an “insoluble puzzle”. If you have ever risked negotiating (with the help of a paid guide) the warren-like maze called “bhool-bhullaiyan” above the ceiling of Lucknow’s Asif-ud-Daulah Imambara, you would have a vague idea of the stunning accuracy of the ancient nomenclature – Abujhmarh.

Unfortunately for the armed forces, the effects of climate change on dense forest cover also appears to favour the Maoists. Normally, the trees would be bereft of leaves about this time, opening up the line of vision into the land which heaves, dips and flattens intermittently. “But this year the leaves fell earlier” says a Chattisgarh resident. “And now the trees already having fresh cover”, exactly when the Forces would have expected them to be bare.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been cautious:

“As of now, we have taken no view on this (use of air power).” Indian Air Force Chief, P.V. Naik said in Ahmedabad:

“The military – Air Force, Army and Navy – are trained to inflict maximum lethality. They are not trained for limited lethality. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border.”

According to newspaper reports, Home Minister P. Chidambaram suggested that even though there is no proposal to use the Army against the Maoists at present, “the center may revisit the mandate of not using the Air Force.” What will the Air Force do over dense forest? Fly low and be shot or drop Napalm?

The BJP has leapt to support Chidambaram hard line. This growing bonhomie is reminiscent of the phase when L.K. Advani described P.V. Narasimha Rao as “the best Prime Minister since Lal Bahadur Shastri”.

In an environment of rapid communication, official statements find traction with lightening speed by word of mouth or through the CP (ML) mouthpiece “Pratirodh ka swar” which means Notes of Resistance. Once a message has gone out, it is difficult to retract.

For example Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement of June 18, 2009 is cast in stone as far as the Maoists are concerned. “If Left extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources, the climate for foreign investment will be affected”.

In Maoist discourse this statement is dissected in the following way: “The Prime Minister’s anxiety is not that the nation will suffer because of extremism in resource rich areas but rather that foreign investment will be adversely affected. Resource rich areas seeking foreign investment implies sale of raw materials.

Then comes the table thumping punchline:

“No country in the world has flourished selling raw materials overseas.”

Strangely, in Maoist circles there is near nostalgia for Shivraj Patil. Unlike Chindambaram who described Naxalites as the “biggest threat” to the nation’s security”, Patil tended to tone down the “exaggerations”.

The lay person’s tendency to see Maoists as some sort of a dark, monstrous presence, lurking in the jungles, is because CP(ML) has not received “informed” media attention. The media has focused largely on political parties in occupation of Parliamentary space.

For instance, no one noticed that the author of Naxalbari in 1967, Kanu Sanyal, died last week, receiving glowing notices in Maoist publications but none in the mainstream.

What is startling the nation is actually a (43) forty three year old diligent movement, ignored by the media and cast by the state in an enemy image.

Little wonder, the UPA leadership is fidgeting uncomfortably. On the Maoist side, there is deep commitment which cannot be ignored. What they are committed to maybe ghoulish and wrong but surely the only way to gauge the sources of their monstrosity (if that is what you insist it is) is to engage with them in a dialogue at some level.

Chidambaram says that dialogue is only possible if “Maoists” abjure violence. They turn around and say the state must abjure violence too. “In fact the state’s quest is for a monopoly of violence”, says the editorial in Resistance.

And yet, when Gen. Secretary of the Marxist Leninist Party, M. Laxman Rao (alias Ganapathy) says “We have repeatedly communicated to the government” a basis for talks, it becomes clear that the state is in contact.

It is from the substance of these “contacts” that the Maoists conclude that “the state is seeking a military solution.”

Or, that the state is only willing to offer a “better deal” if the Adivasis allow industry to move in.

“The government is not willing to negotiate a new policy”, say Maoists spokesmen. “They wish to be in a position from where they can improve their offer to us from 20Kgs of atta to 30 Kgs of atta.”

“Why has the term land reforms disappeared from all discourse?”

“The Prime Minister is a great supporter of private property. Why cant the Adivasis have private property. Then you can strike a deal with them on whether or not they wish to part with land they have been in occupation of for thousands of years”.

Rahul Gandhi, with his eyes set on UP, may be interested in the Maoist – Mayawati battlelines. Just visit Kausambi, the district carved out of Allahabad and which lies between Ganga and Jamuna. The “Sand mafia” with a monopoly of the riverbed, is led by Kapil Muni Karvaria and Girish Pasi, both BSP leaders.

A movement of poor people on the riverbed, organized by the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, has been banned. Leaders have been booked under the “Gangster Act” because they would not allow machines to be used to dredge sand illegally and which take work away from the labourers. United provinces Special Powers Act of 1932 is being invoked.

Worse, Maoists gave a call to commemorate Uda Devi, the Pasi martyr who fought the British in 1857. The assembly was not allowed. In Orissa, Chattisgarh, Andhra, Punjab, UP, everywhere, “democratic space is shrinking in the guise of this war” says a Maoist spokesman.

Meanwhile as the war proceeds, Bollywood should ready itself for scripts on unconventional warfare, rather like the Home Alone series, in which a little boy left alone in the house improvises ways to fight those trying to break in. A battalion of CRPF from UP was confronted with a row of cows behind which the Maoists crouched in security greater than any bunker. The UP Cops shuddered at the thought of killing the holy cow!

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Lucknow: Decline, Demise, Despair?

Lucknow: Decline, Demise, Despair?
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 09.04.2010

Most people do not realize that Hyderabad’s cultural ambience began to fade only in the 1950s, after police action against the Nizam. But Lucknow as the centre of Urdu and India’s composite culture, “dropt from the zenith like a falling star” abruptly when the British dispatched the last King of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah, to Matia Burj, a suburb 50 kms from Calcutta, in 1856 to complete their conquest of Oudh.

And, like a “falling star” (Milton used the phrase in a different context) it has been floating through the spaces in phases of cultural decline, rehabilitation, decline again, then, the final burn-out, the contemporary condition.

To borrow an expression from boxing, the British administered a double fisted one-two by sending Wajid Ali Shah to Calcutta and, after the 1857 uprising, the last Moghul emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to Rangoon (Yangon), to languish and die in the garage of a junior British officer. It is an interesting detail that both the deposed Kings were accomplished Urdu Poets.

In fact Wajid Ali Shah wrote plays, thumris, patronized dance, retained and decorated Krishna Lila in Kathak, played holi and observed Ashura, the tenth day of Moharram, both with religiously mixed groups. This backdrop is important to realize that the cultural demise of Lucknow has not only been in chronological time but in creeping amnesia in our minds about the past.

Actually, Lucknow has taken three major hits – 1857, 1947 and Zamindari abolition in the 50s. These three events rattled the elites who determined the city’s cultural tempo. The last of these events must be accorded a mixed reception because it inaugurated an era of egalitarianism which no one can quarrel with (feudalism was untenable) but which entailed cultural costs.

The elite, bruised and battered, retained their elegance and style. If they had to pick a bone with the British, they did not pelt stones at the objects of their ire. They resorted to the most brilliant political and social satire, wit and lampoon ever seen in Indian literature.

Punch magazine was in those days the high point of British wit and humour. The Avadh elite (to call them Lucknow elite is restrictive) launched a magazine, naming it quite unabashedly, Avadh Punch, an extraordinary vehicle for Urdu satire (cartoons and all) in which the great satirical poet, Akbar Allahbadi, wrote his earliest verse.

On the Late Agha Khan’s politics he wrote:

“London se Dilli aaye hain do yaum ke liye!

Yeh zehmatein uthaeen faqat qaum ke liye!”

(From London to Delhi just for two days!

O’ his love for his people and his caring ways.)

Or on politicians in general:

“Qaum ke gam mein dinner khaate

Hain hukkam ke saath!

Runj leader ko bahut hai

Magar aaram ke saath.”

(For love of his people, with the rulers he dines.

He anguishes in comfort with the choicest wines)

Lucknow’s culture was enriched from many sources. There were the Qasbahs, the abode of the landed gentry who brought to their “camp” houses in Qaiserbagh in Lucknow an Avadhi tinge, introducing an earthy lyricism into Lucknow’s urbane Urdu.

In fact the “pure” urbanity of Urdu was much more a preserve of Kashmiri Pandits and Kayasthas, purely non rural groups. The only Muslims who approximated to this “urbanity” had their residence, from havelis to hovels, in the old city, Chowk and Nakkhas. The residents here prided themselves in their “gandi galiyan; saaf zubaan” (dirty lanes, but sparkling speech)

Lucknow’s cultural schizophrenia grew in direct proportion to the expansion of British administration.

For example, one brother stayed in the old town, clad in “Sherwani”, increasingly smudged with usage. The other, clambering onto western education, crossed over to the cantonments and Civil lines in black tie.

The upwardly mobile in the western idiom sought membership of the Army and Civil Service dominated Mohammad Bagh Club. Those obstinately anchored to the floral patterns of Urdu conversation, laced with verses in Persian, Avadhi and Braj Bhasha (Lord Krishna’s spell on Urdu aethetics is generally not known), gravitated towards Rifaah-e-Aam club near City railway station.

The Urdu elite kept the chin up in their ever shrinking spaces. In addition to indispensability of English for employment across the board, a newly emerging political class fell back on the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan call of Bharatendu Harishchand. This drove a nail in Urdu’s coffin. It also led to the supercession of Khari Boli over the lilt of Avadhi, Braj Bhasha, Maithil, Bhojpuri. Hindi successfully claimed the slot as the national language. However, resistance to Hindi in the non speaking states remains but is being slowly eroded by the expansive power of Bollywood. It is Bollywood which is emerging as the principal determinant of a sort of “Hinglish” as the de facto Lingua Franca, far removed from the ostentatious self assurance of Urdu diction as “she was spoke” in Lucknow.

No one exemplifies the tragedy of the decline of Urdu and Lucknow’s composite culture as Josh Malihadadi does. He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest master of Urdu since Mir Anis in the 19th century.

In the 50s, pushed by his uneducated sons and persuaded by Abu Talib Naqvi, ICS, Commissioner of Karachi, who was eager to claim Urdu’s crown jewel as a Pakistani, Josh crossed over much to the annoyance of Nehru and Maulana Azad. Josh feared the Bharatendu ideology and thought his “Dear Urdu” would be safer in Pakistan. He lived to rue that decision.

The disillusionment that set in, broke him. His hurt was not that Punjabi and Sindhi chauvinism towered over Urdu. His anguish was that he found himself among narrow minded Mullahs. He laments:

“Yahaan Maudoodiyon ke darmiyan hoon”

(I find myself among the followers of Maulana Maudoodi, the founder of Jamaate Islami)

“Sab se zyada khauf hai is baat ke mujhe.

Dum tor dein kahin na meri wazadariyan.

Aisa na ho ki aale suboo se bigar kar,

Ehle wuzoo se gaanthna par jaen yariyan.”

(I live in dread that style will be compromised. I fear that those colourful evening with my drinking companions will give way to the tedium of ablutions and prayer)

This finest of modern poets died with Lucknow and Malihabad etched on his heart.

But the one who died in penury in a Lucknow country liquor shop and who never abandoned hope, was another great poet, Majaaz.

“Phir iske baad Subah hai, aur Subhe nau Majaz

Hum par hai khatm Shaam-e-gharibane Lucknow”

(Look! A new dawn breaks! The tragedy of being exiled in my beloved Lucknow, ends with me)

So, this, in brief is the narrative from 1856 upto Majaz’s death in 1956, full hundred years. What we are witnessing is the inevitable aftermath, a Lucknow gripped in egalitarianism’s unaesthetic garb, one which would cause Josh to wail:

“Andhera, Alaman, itna andhera!

Ilahi Kaun hoon, Kyon hoon, Kahan hoon?

(Such blinding darkness!

Dear God, I grope for I do not know who, why, and where am I)

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Preparing for the Endgame. But which one?

Preparing for the Endgame. But which one?
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 04.04.2010

The season is on for excessive analyses of the Endgame in Afghanistan which to me is nowhere in sight.

If the war in Afghanistan were nearing some sort of a conclusion, surely Washington would be in grasp of a script. This is not the impression I have after a recent visit to that capital.

Indeed, the “18 month deadline” for scaling down in Afghanistan is not true. That “may be” a notional date when an appraisal will be made of the situation on the ground to explore possible exit strategies.

So pre occupied has President Obama been with the Health Care Bill, that he has not been able to find time to address the foreign policy challenges facing the new administration.

One such challenge is the growing allegation by the administration’s critics, mostly Republicans, that Washington was causing anxieties among traditional allies – Israel and Japan for instance.

This is a sort of pre emptive murmuring campaign by the Republicans who should know that a combination of foreign policy debacles and the economic meltdown are a hold over from the Bush years. That is why neither Israel nor Japan, among others, is listening.

The “End of History” mood in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Collapse is giving way to realism. Phrases like “full spectrum dominance”, an article of faith with the neo-cons, now cause derisive laughter.

Power is now circumscribed and Americans know it. So, whether they like it or not, the US base at Okinawa in Japan will have to the vacated soon. North Korea is obstinate on the nuclear issue, as is Iran. China is standing its ground on currency and trade.

Vice President Joe Biden is roundly snubbed by Israel which announces more settlements in Jerusalem, exactly the opposite of what the Vice President required to give Israel-Palestinian peace talks an impetus.

Nearer home, in Afghanistan, even President Hamid Karzai, who would wilt without American support, was able to withstand the Richard Holbrook – Peter Galbraith combined displeasure after irregularities were discovered in his election. Peter Galbraith has since resigned.

Why, India too has successfully thwarted the once all powerful Holbrook’s instinctive interest in the Indo-Pak-Kashmir theme. Although I am not so sure that allowing a powerful Hillary Clinton appointee to be cultivated exclusively by Islamabad is such a good thing after all.

Whether on Af-Pak, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is positioning himself to claim a substantive role in the Afghan Endgame with Washington’s support or disapproval is still unclear. He demands a role for his “assets” (Mullah Omar for one) in any future dispensation in Afghanistan and, ofcourse, a drastic curtailment of any Indian profile.

Gen. Kayani spoke with considerable candour at a recent press briefing. “We seek strategic depth in Afghanistan.” He clarified: “Strategic depth does not imply controlling Afghanistan”. Rather, “if Afghanistan is peaceful, stable and friendly, we have our strategic depth because our western border is secure – then we are not looking both ways.”

In other words, Islamabad, seeks a controlling role in the evolution of a possible outcome in Afghanistan, (“strategic depth”) so that its western flank is secure, enabling it to concentrate on the eastern front. Well, what can New Delhi do to assuage its fears on the “eastern front?” It is willing to travel reasonable lengths to minimize Pakistani fears provided Indian public opinion is not kept in a state of agitation by acts of terrorism traced to Pak territory.

At one stage Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf had agreed that acts of terror would not derail the “peace process” which was “irreversible”. But that was in circumstances when both sides saw the pursuit of peace as mutually beneficial.

The protracted Afghan war, with its costs to the Pakistani state itself with incremental acts of terror, wobbly civilian structure, has caused the Army to come out of the shadows as the ultimate protector of the Islamic Republic. To come on top, surmounting internal obstacles, the surest mantra for the army is to build up the ogre on the eastern front, the “Hamsaya dushman”, (enemy neighbour) and “Hindu India”, in drawing room murmur.

To negotiate current complexities, the Pak army finds this stance more tactical maneuver than a durable strategy. But a Pakistan without a long term strategy, towards India, among others, and holding onto the coat of the US (witness the March 25 US-Pak strategic dialogue) against whom its citizens are set in ever higher decibel levels, is clearly proceeding in a direction without reliable compasses.

How Pakistan emerges from the “current complexities” is itself as much of a puzzle as are the contours of the over analyzed Endgame.

A possible conclusion to the Afghan war came into unexpectedly sharp focus at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saddled with an unpopular war on the eve of a very difficult election, pushed for reconciliation with the Taliban as the swiftest exit strategy. Who can blame Gen. Kayani for taking this as a signal for a rapid movement towards reconciliation with the Taliban Pakistan knows? In fact, the British position is at a variance from the political-military success sought by Washington as a pre cursor to dialogue.

Quite frankly, there is no conclusive policy, in Washington, or London. The internal situation in Pakistan is uncertain, as is the ground reality in Afghanistan.

Secretary General of UN Ban Ki Moon says the solution will have to be found by the Afghan people. This is in line with President Obama’s symbolic visit to Kabul which seemed to sanctify Hamid Karzai as the ultimate deliverer, even though the jury is still out on whether he has it in him to take the nation out of the thicket.

In brief, no endgame yet, only lots of people in frenetic activity. Yes, the only endgame on the horizon concerns President Zardari which is a pity only on one count: he was quite nice about India. The delay in his departure reflects on the uncertain course the Army has to traverse.

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