Saturday, February 25, 2012

When Arabs Followed The Leadership Of A Hindu They Adored

When Arabs Followed The Leadership Of A Hindu They Adored
Saeed Naqvi

“Jap raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab.
Barhaman-zaadey mein shaan-e-dilbari aisi to ho!”
(The Arab world is chanting the name of a Hindu!
A Brahmin with such ability to win hearts and minds?)

“Hikmat-e-Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru ki Qasam!
Mar mitey Islam jispe, kaafiri aisi to ho!”
(Consider the vision of Pandit Nehru!
A non believer and yet the world of Islam lies at his feet!)

I wonder what would the poet, Raees Amrohvi, (Amroha is in UP) say about India’s Arab policy today.

The poem, one of numerous written in that period, expresses admiration for the spell Nehru had cast by his deft navigation of foreign policy between the two blocs not for India alone but a whole group. A dignified detachment from the cold war was at the heart of this policy. His policy was not an invitation to an Ashram for the recluse. From Asian Relations conference in 1947 to the Afro-Asian bloc to the non-aligned was an evolution of a nation shuffling out of the colonial past.

The anti colonial rhetoric could have been shrill. Nehru kept the measure. While leading nations out of colonialism, he remained in the British Commonwealth. For this he was chastised by the Left whose values he otherwise shared.

Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote:
“Commonwealth ka das yeh Nehru,
Aur tabahi laaney na payee
Maar ley saathi, Jaaney na paaye!”
(Finish him, this Nehru, lackey of the Commonwealth, before he destroys our nation.)

India was then a poor country but it was in the hands of leaders who imparted to its conduct in world affairs a certain dignity, self respect, attracting universal admiration. Rejecting foreign advice without offending; accepting it without fawning.

After your flip flop votes in the Security Council and the General Assembly and now turning up in Tunisia, cap in hand, to join the Friends of Syria Group, (which like the Libyan Contact Group, will end up arming the rebels), do you think you come across to the rest of the world as a nation with a Central Nervous System?

Journalist all over the World must be pained at the death of two Western journalists in Baba Amro enclave of Homs near the Lebanon border. Journalists from the BBC are appealing for help. One of them is injured.

Ten Indian journalists with proper visas have finally reached Damascus. Reports are that six French, British and German military advisers (without visas) are either in detention or cornered in Baba Amro. This is in addition to the 49 Turkish soldiers whose release Ankara is trying to organize through Iran and Moscow.

The situation is not very different from what happened in Libya at about this time last year. Britain’s Defence Secretary Liam Fox confirmed in the House of Commons that British diplomats, intelligence officers and special forces had been held in Benghazi.

Are these small, negligible matters? Foreign diplomats, intelligence and special forces being caught with pants down first, in Libya, and now in Syria, and the world is supposed to look the other way?

Just imagine a scenario on these lines: Post 1989 cross border terrorism is at its peak in Kashmir. This is precisely the period when Sahibzada Yaqub Khan materializes at the Pakistan High Commissioner’s House on Tilak Marg. Veteran journalists like Pran Chopra, Inder Malhotra, K.K. Katyal are all there, listening to the Pakistan Foreign Minister teach us French Expressions which meant “the war of liberation is at an irreversible level”. Do remember those days!

Supposing along with the terrorists, journalists, embedded with special forces and equipped with modern communication machines, were also to appear, what would New Delhi do?

Roll out the red carpet or knock the hell out of the cheeky adventurists, summoning the armed forces of which India has aplenty in Kashmir? Well, Syrians have thrown their army right into the foreigners holed up in Baba Amro. Can New Delhi complain?

But on this occasion we appear to be siding with the foreigners and calling them Friends of Syria.

Or has New Delhi fallen for Israeli Energy Minister Uzi Landau’s blandishments on strategy and energy. After all, in the Great Levant Basin, the US geological survey has confirmed 1.74 billion barrels of Recoverable oil and 122 billion cubic feet of Gas. Indian application for survey were being favourably considered by Damascus which, alas, is shackled by sanctions. Israel is much the more powerful player. Who knows we may have been very clever! I doubt if all this would inspire poetry about Arabs watching Indian statesmanship with breathless adoration!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Assad’s Troops Close In On Foreign Mercenaries

Assad’s Troops Close In On Foreign Mercenaries
Saeed Naqvi

A feature of the Syrian crisis which must please those ostensibly seeking the regime’s ouster is that it is turning out to be a long drawn one. So long drawn, in fact, that the world is beginning to develop an amnesia about the Palestinian issue. This must a happy enough state of affairs for some. It certainly provides respite, a digression with a potential to keep attention away from embarrassing themes even as the puppeteers improvise one crisis after another.

There are now journalists, ferried into Syria by reliable smugglers, testifying to “cross-border terrorism” from Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon into Syria. The “brutal” Syrian response makes headlines but “cross-border terrorism” does not. The expression should be in New Delhi’s recollection atleast.

Governments are sometimes secretive and muffle their responses. But cross-border terrorism does not echo even with the Indian media and those who imagine they trigger public discourse? Debate rages in the US whether assassinating Iranian scientists serves a useful purpose. But the intelligentsia in this mother of civilizations expresses no astonishment that the ethical dimension, whether organizing assassination of scientists is right or wrong, is nowhere in the discourse. Is this state of affairs an improvement on Anthony Trollope’s description of a Tasmanian settler who, when asked whom he would kill first if he saw a snake and an aborigine, replied with stunning candour: “the question should not arise!”

Already, the Syrian story has had many shocking twists. The Arab League sends a mission to Syria but its report is turned down because the “Sudanese” head of the mission is too “balanced” between state brutality and the protesters’ violence. That Al Qaeda and Taleban operatives from Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan have found their way into Syria has been reported even in the West. But Taleban from Qatar? Is Qatar, a hub for a dialogue with the Taleban, also beginning to double up as a recruitment center for Syrian operations? If so, these operations have the blessings from the highest Al Qaeda authority, Ayman al Zawahiri.

In other words the United States, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar are openly in Al Qaeda’s company in Syria. Launch a global war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan and set up Al Qaeda in new theatres like Libya and Syria! I suppose, the global war on terror will be redirected to these theatres once Afghanistan and Pakistan have been cleansed – a sort of second phase in a two-stroke operation.

Bana kar mitana
Mita kar banana
(Build, destroy, build again)

Meanwhile, the Syrian game has been immeasurably complicated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Damascus along with Russian Intelligence personnel. Photographic proof has been compared of all the outside build up of violent dissent inside Syria.

Evidently, Bashar al Assad has been given a fortnight within which to “clean up” such centers of rebellion as Homs, not far from the Lebanese border.

Espionage related diplomacy is proceeding parallel to the Homs operations. For example, the rebels captured nine Iranian pilgrims taking the land route through Alleppo to Hama and onto the Zainab shrine, in Damascus. At about the same time, the Syrian Army arrested 49 Turkish soldiers. Ankara asked Teheran to arrange for their release. Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu rushed to Moscow for help. To facilitate a swap, the free Syrian army (a rebel outfit) released the Iranian pilgrims on the Turkish side of the border. The pilgrims have returned to Teheran.

An infinitely more serious situation has arisen in a part of Homs where Foreign Mercenaries and special forces are surrounded by the Syrian Army. Rather than bomb the Baba Amro area, the Syrian strategy is to capture the foreigners alive and turn the tables on the Western media war. A clue to the veracity of this story came from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who is seeking Russian help to create “humanitarian corridors” to allow access to “civilians caught up in the violence”. In fact an effort is on to have the “corridors” idea included in a new Security Council Resolution the west is trying to rope the Russians into.

The Syrians meanwhile are keeping their eyes on the clock and hastening slowly towards tightening the cordon on the Baba Amro locality in Homs. As further good news for them, Jordanian sources confirm the arrest by the Jordanian army of seven terrorists crossing into Syria.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Indian Vote at UN Notwithstanding, Syria Not Falling Soon

Indian Vote at UN Notwithstanding, Syria Not Falling Soon
Saeed Naqvi

Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Roshomon, is an examination of the same reality from different perspectives.

Syria today would lend itself admirably to the Roshomon treatment. Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the supervising deity of all the Arab regimes who are most reliably in the US camp, Saudi Arabia, all have distinct perspectives on Syria, with some overlaps.

Powers arrayed against Bashar al Assad of Syria are exactly the ones which transformed a no-fly-zone into regime change in Libya.

In fact, like road repair gangs working on different stretches of a highway, one stretch at a time, the same gang of Arabs and their western minders are proceeding from Libya to Syria to…..sorry, hang on. Syria is proving to be a much tougher project than earlier imagined.

There are various reasons why Assad has to be brought to his knees.

The West and Israel obviously find it easier to manage a Mid-East without independent minded trouble makers like Qaddafi and Assad who had a history of being on the wrong side during the cold war. The Soviet Union is history but habits acquired during that period, the kneejerk anti Americanism for instance, will not go away unless these regimes are smashed and Israel plus energy interests are secured against their caprice.

The Israeli experience during the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war has taught all friends of Israel a lesson: Hizbullah derives its muscle from Iran and Syria. This cannot be given the emotive label of a “Shia arc” because Iran, Syria, Hizbullah link up eventually with Hamas in Gaza, a patently Sunni outfit in Israel’s underbelly and which Israel dubs as “terrorist”.

The removal of Syria from this chain weakens Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran, all in one strike.

The removal of Assad, an Alawi (moderate variant of Shiaism) would result in power being distributed among the majority Sunni population of Syria. An enlargement of Sunni power has become an article of faith with the Saudi regime.

During the earlier phase of the cold war the Shah of Iran and the Saudi King sat on the same western lap. But with the coming of the Ayatullahs to power in Teheran in 1979, the Shia-Sunni divide resurfaced.

The most scary of Saudi nightmares materialized when American occupation of Iraq in 2003 resulted in the rise of Shia power next door in Baghdad. To check this turn of events, Al Qaeda type terrorism was introduced into Iraq on America’s watch to keep the new Shia rulers off balance.

In strengthening Sunni regimes, the Saudis are the most enthusiastic players but they have competition in the business. This competition comes from Turkey.

Until 2000, Turkey was comprehensively in the grip of secularism as dictated by the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk. The west (unknowingly) helped weaken this secularism by allowing the five year siege of Sarajevo (no UN resolutions then), the massacre at Sebrenica and the unspeakable cruelties of the Bosnian war – all on live TV. Sarajevo derives from the Turkish word Sarai which means “resting place”. The region is part of Turkish nostalgia.

The consequence was the rise of the Islamist Refah party with Nikmetin Arbakan as Prime Minister. The Army, guarantor of Turkey’s secularism, scuttled the regime. A softer version of a tolerant, secular Muslim group, the Peace and Development party under Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan has broken all records by increasing its vote share dramatically through three elections.

Naturally, Erdogan sees himself, (not the Saudis) as a model in the context of the Arab Spring. Hence Turkish pressure on Assad to accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood in the changes Syria must undertake. When Erdogan turned up in Tripoli to say his prayers after Qaddafi’s fall he was building up this Arab constituency.

There are three obstacles in his way. He must gain popularity in the Arab street if he has to offer himself as an acceptable model. For this he must stand upto Israeli-US polices on Palestine, a stance which has made Iran, Hizbullah and Syria Pariahs in West’s eyes.

The second obstacle is a deep seated Arab aversion to the Ottoman Empire which Turkey’s high profile would evoke.

The third is a very tricky one: Syria, Iran, Iraq all have Kurds which can be powerful pressure points on Ankara.

But where does all this lead to? In brief neither Syria, nor Assad are falling anytime soon, secure as they are in a strong, largely united Alawi Army, a two million strong Baath party, on all sides of sectarian divides, notwithstanding an Indian vote for a resolution seeking a repeat of Libya.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where’s The Other Side Of Story In Mid East?

Where’s The Other Side Of Story In Mid East?
Saeed Naqvi

One of the great tragedies of our time is the near total decline in the credibility of the Western media. There are some exceptions but only some. Since much of the global media, including India, is largely imitative, indeed, completely dependent on Western sources for its international news, the lack of credibility attaches to it too.

The harm this does in the arena of foreign policy is incalculable: influential sections of the elite become passive recipients of images or stories doled out by the traditional metropolitan centers of control serving their interests.

Happily, this imbalance is being corrected by the alternative media which is increasingly taking the internet route. This media will not, for a while, have the means for news gathering on the scale the mainstream media has. But, in time, it will.

Almost the first consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the emergence of the global electronic media. Peter Arnett of the CNN clambered onto the terrace of the Al Rashied hotel in Baghdad to inaugurate the era of wars being brought live into our living rooms. This was operation Desert Storm. Two months later, BBC World Service TV was born.

Naturally, this dramatic live coverage projected the Anglo-American approach, something which came across to the Arab world as the most visible form of Arab humiliation, an Arab defeat in the Arab drawing room.

I am surprised how this turn in coverage of wars and conflicts – Bosnia, the two Intefadas, Israel-Hezbullah war, occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – is not mentioned as one of the potent catalysts for what came to be further amplified as Islamic terror.

It was to provide ventilation to Arab suffocation that the rulers of Qatar, at that stage not on the best of terms with Saudi Arabia, launched Al Jazeera. This coincided with the BBC World Service retrenching staff providing the new Qatari outfit with world class technical and editorial media personnel.

Since open societies like India would not resile from habits inherited from the colonial period – for foreign affairs turn to AP, Reuters and BBC – the rulers of Qatar filled in the gap.

From its inception there was a question mark on Al Jazeera. Qatar, after all was the regional headquarter of the US Central Command which was prosecuting all US military action from Iraq to Afghanistan. How could Al Jazeera co-exist with CENTCOM? How could it “independently” cover CENTCOM military action. This coverage would stoke Anti Americanism on Arab, indeed, Muslim street.

Libertarians like Prof. Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University wrote scathing articles against Al Jazeera “harming” the US project. Why blame Ajami alone: even Tom Friedman was describing Iraq as the greatest project the US had undertaken in the interest of peace and democracy. Why, Najaf’s Ayatullah Sistani was being recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize! And all this wonderful work was being undone by Al Jazeera. Secretary Colin Powell went ballistic. So agitated was Pentagon that Al Jazeera office in Kabul was bombed. Its principal correspondent was jailed in Spain. Guantanamo Bay was probably not ready then.

To arrest the impact of Al Jazeera, Saudis launched their own channel – Al Arabia. Al Jazeera became the global voice of dissent. Its credibility was priceless.

Its credibility having plummeted, the Western media needed Al Jazeera’s credibility. The Arab Spring provided the opportunity. As dictators began to fall in Tunis and Cairo, the Kings and Sheikhs got together in a scrum. Forgotten was the Saud-Qatar antipathy. The two got together, first to coax a resolution out of the Arab league seeking a no fly zone over Libya and are now helping manufacture regime change, hand-in-hand in Syria.

In both these enterprises they have thrown in the media they control –Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, its “priceless” credibility placed at the US’s command.

This confluence of the Western and Arab media has been brilliantly choreographed by military strategists. If a story is less credible or a downright concoction, it can always be sourced to the Arab channels. This the BBC and the CNN can then quote without harming their own bruised reputations further.

Peter Arnett inaugurated the era of live coverage of wars from Baghdad. Which face have you become familiar with in all the footage from Libya or Syria? You are told footage has been smuggled or flashed out by mobile cameras.

The only face etched on my mind is of an eager young BBC reporter in Libya leaning triumphantly over the body of Qaddaffi lying in a refrigerated warehouse meant for slaughtered animals.

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