Friday, December 26, 2014

Indian Navy Ignored During Tsunami For Want Of Media Policy

Indian Navy Ignored During Tsunami For Want Of Media Policy
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Boxing Day earlier this week reminded me of 26 December 2004, the day the Tsunami trampled Aceh, Galle, Trincomallee and devastated the east coast of India. An air force plane enabled me to be in Galle, Sri Lanka, that fateful day.

Captain Murlidharan Nair, Captain T. Asokan and a host of other naval officers from Cochin were holidaying on the high seas with their families when news of the Tsunami reached them. Families returned home in smaller boats even as reinforcements arrived for the Navy to advance with 37 ships to ports in the eye of the Tsunami.

Galle’s ample harbour was choked with debris, which included giant trees, smashed boats, furniture, doors, household goods and bloated carcasses.

The host country, Sri Lanka were astonished at the efficiency with which Indian officers and men could clear Galle and Trinco harbours. It was a heartwarming Indian show along a vast stretch of the coastline from Indonesia, Sri Lanka to India.

Then something quite extraordinary happened.

A giant US warship docked a few meters at sea, visible from the Galle airport from where I was to be flown to New Delhi. The first passengers to disembark from the warship were two US cameramen. A speed boat brought them ashore where a high platform was in readiness for the cameramen to position themselves.

Then came the marines with gear that would be impressive on film. Americans had arrived on relief duty with great fanfare.

It was dark by the time I reached New Delhi. Next morning’s newspapers were a shock. Across six columns of the Times of India was a photograph of the US ship disgorging marines, engineers, grenadiers. The headline in heavy font was: “American ship brings relief.” Not a word about the Indians.

Here I was witness, yet again, to the triumph of propaganda over fact. Everybody in Sri Lanka knew that Indian ships had arrived the day after the Tsunami hit the coastline. In fact by the time the American ships arrived most of the required relief had already been administered by the Indian Navy. It was a performance the nation could have been proud of. This was the sort of stuff Prime Ministers took special leave to inform their respective Parliaments about. Sadly, no such notice was taken of the Indian Navy.

In this instance there was a total disconnect between soldiers involved in the world’s most challenging expedition and Defence headquarters. In fact the most well informed person in South Block was Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran who could tally the US version from Chanakyapuri and the Indian one from Colombo.

Saran was at this stage managing another issue of some delicacy that the Tsunami had thrown up. The first diplomat to visit him was the Ambassador of Israel. He wanted permission for Israeli pilots to fly a plane to Nicobar Islands to rescue their citizens. What were they doing in Nicobar. The issue resolved itself because the Israelis in Nicobar chose to extend their idyllic holiday once the water level dropped.

Not only was there zero publicity for the extraordinary work done by the Indian Navy, but late comers like the Americans allowed their publicity departments to heap all the credit for the Tsunami management on themselves, the Americans.

This was the period when Indo-US relations were being given the sort of boost that would end up in a huge, strategic embrace after the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. A new term was introduced and promoted by the US ambassador to Nepal, James Moriarty to define regional co-operation between India, US and the European Union. The term was “Tsunami model”. The implication was quite stifling. Regional initiatives would require US, EU endorsement. It has been dropped because it tended to shackle New Delhi regionally rather than confer on it any new authority.

India was ahead of all the other nations eventually involved in Tsunami relief for reasons I have explained at the outset. Boxing Day is plonk in the middle of Christmas, New Year holidays. That is why Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, George Bush, Kofi Annan – indeed most world leaders were on holiday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his cabinet colleagues and the armed forces could by contrast meet immediately and act.

The question is: why was the heroic work done by 37 Indian Naval ships in Sri Lanka, Aceh, Maldives and India’s eastern coast completely missed out by the global as well as the Indian media?

The reason is simple. The global media, BBC and CNN, will always aggressively promote their own national interests. For India’s achievements to be noticed, New Delhi will have to have a global media of its own. Otherwise the nation will fritter away its prime time programming on trivia, with little plausibility, brought into focus as aggressive debate.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Peshawar Army School Song: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Peshawar Army School Song: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Ever since US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan to the stone age unless it joined the post 9/11 global war on terror, Pakistan has faced an existential tragedy of choice. It was being called upon to kill the very mujahideen it had trained to become hardened Islamic fighters, also at America’s behest, to help expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

Some in the Pakistan army got into the drill, led by the Americans, to eliminate the Mujahideen; some did not. The world’s mightiest power and the world’s only nuclear Islamic state have been fighting the Al Qaeda, Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, one mutating into the other, for the past thirteen years without any conclusion.

Every year, specifically since 2010, the US threatens to leave Afghanistan but finds itself unable to. Islamabad and Kabul are both obliged to fight a continuous war against their own people. To get even in an asymmetrical war, a faction of the TTP has heaped such brutality on the families of school children in Peshawar as to leave human beings everywhere numb and speechless.

Immediately after the carnage in Peshawar, army chief General Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar flew to Kabul for an emergency meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. They also met NATO commander Gen. John Campbell. There is no Afghan counterpart to Raheel yet in harness. What would they have discussed? Hot pursuit of Maulana Fazlullah, the faction of the TTP allegedly responsible for the massacre? Can Ghani, who held onto the Presidentship only by the skin of his teeth, oblige? His political rival and the CEO, Abdullah Abdullah has already raised the bar for both sides. There is no such thing as a good Taliban as opposed to a bad Taliban, he says. The implication is to have no talks with Taliban which knocks out the Pakistani expectation to have a structure in Kabul which is leavened by Talibani presence.

Remember the spells of Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani opposite numbers. When they coordinated action against the Taliban, Pushtoon nationalism grew in geometrical progression. When the two became suspicious of each other and relaxed a bit, Taliban mopped up all the sympathy. That dynamic has not changed.

Among the numerous flip flops of the Americans in Afghanistan has been their inability to have a consistent policy on Taliban. Initially, the Taliban had to be destroyed. Then they had to be only weakened. This latter line suited Kabul’s calculations. A weakened Taliban was useful so long as it expanded horizontally. The Pushtoons in control in Kabul believed Taliban expansion was Pushtoon expansion which, in the long run, was in their interest.

NATO never had a strategy in the region because it had no policy towards Pakistan. They knew they could never defeat the Taliban without hitting hard at their bases in Pakistan. And that, NATO could not do. And now, NATO are packing up their bags.

One reason (in addition to scores of conspiracy theories) Benazir Bhutto paid with her life was that she was seen to be an American nominee in an atmosphere of rampaging anti Americanism. Nawaz Sharif, it was believed, would be relatively more acceptable to the Taliban because he had been a Saudi ward.

With the emergence of the Islamic Caliphate of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in Iraq and Syria, a new dimension has been added to the TTP narrative. Names of Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi were media headlines when the Pak army Rangers attacked the Lal Masjid in July 2007, which gave phenomenal boost to mutual bitterness. The school massacre in Peshawar is a continuation in that zigzag.

President Zia ul Haq, at whose door lies all the blame for wrenching Pakistani Islam away from Islam’s mellow sub continental culture towards the faith’s more Arabised variant, was the earliest patron of Lal Masjid. Located near the mosque was the world’s biggest Madrasa for women with 6,000 students.

Musharraf’s support for the global war on terror brought him into direct conflict with Lal Masjid. Most of the students were Pushtoon. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of religious parties claimed that 400 to 1,000 students were killed – European news channels gave the death figure as 300. That boosted militancy sky high. But the murder of 132 school children in uniforms is an unspeakable tragedy of a different order. It brings to mind Habib Tanvir’s translation of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” Phool woh saarey gaye to aakhir kahaan gaye?

We now have a leadership in Kabul which is so much a creature of America, that it can never stand on its own feet. Then there is a besieged Nawaz Sharif, half hearted American Forces in the region, and a Pakistan army exceedingly unpopular in the Frontier. The irony is that Pakistan is secure precisely because of its weaknesses. Because, as extremism expands, the shrill chant worldwide will be: Pakistan is too nuclear to fail. A nuclear Pakistan will invite American oversight from the Afghan Machaan or watchtowers which will be required for a long time. On the other front, meanwhile, the bail to Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi has brought out the Hawks in India on their shrillest howl. Pakistan, shortsightedly, has decided to accord a “low priority” in management of cross border terrorism in Kashmir. In other words it will attend to the Afghan front first. The outcome is clear as daylight: it will fall between stools.

There was the hope that after picking up the trophy in Cuba, Barack Obama may be eyeing the bigger prize in Tehran. But that may give heart to the Northern Alliance elements in Afghanistan. Would that not bring the Pushtoons on both sides of the nonexistent Durand line closer together? Why would the Americans worry on that count?

As former US ambassador in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, used to say: there can be no coherent US game in Afghanistan and Iraq without Iran being on board. Khalilzad was US ambassador to Iraq too.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Putin Returns Reassured After Talks And Agreements With Old Ally

Putin Returns Reassured After Talks And Agreements With Old Ally
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi
Who knows, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have added non alignment to his bow in the conduct of foreign affairs. He stood firm by the side of President Vladimir Putin at a time when Washington has all but given notice that it seeks regime change in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tweeted as much.

“We have a strategic partnership that is incomparable in content.” Having said this after his talks with Putin, what turn of phrase will Modi employ during President Barack Obama’s visit on January 26? “Even if India’s options have increased, Russia remains our most important defence partner.”

Deals in oil exploration, infrastructure, nuclear energy, defence and diamond could exceed $100 billion. Russia, China, Japan, Vietnam have all measured upto Modi’s emphasis on economic diplomacy. Will the US too?

The end of the cold war had rendered non alignment redundant. But a new and imminent cold war is creating room for India to reinvent it.

Among the earliest to warn the US against targeting Moscow was the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. His advise was to keep a steady focus on “radical Islam”. In fact, in this enterprise the West needed Russian co-operation. The incentive for Russia to join this coalition were its own anxieties about Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus, Blair said.

Last month, the Jewish-Saudi lobby in Washington was worried that the November 24 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran might actually be met. Secretary of State John Kerry was advised to stay his hand in Vienna. A technically feasible agreement was thus politically postponed.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who had captured the world’s imagination after his impressive debut at the UN General Assembly in September, has today lashed out against “Muslim treachery”. There was also a hint of a western conspiracy to damage Russian and Iranian economies by bringing down oil prices.

It is strange that Washington and Riyadh should be jointly interested in keeping the price of oil below $70 because plummeting price of US shale oil would hold back investments in this new sector. Indeed, shale production is expensive business and many new investors may simply shut shop. Does the Saudi move have multiple targets?

Shia Iran and Bashar al Assad’s backer, Russia, both make sense as plausible targets. But are they also upto something else? Would they like to delay US independence of West Asian oil by retarding the shale industry in, say, Texas?

Iran’s earlier moves in the West Asian chessboard were guided by extreme caution because the nuclear deal was in the balance. Freed of that consideration for the time being, Iran is taking a more robust interest in dealing with the ISIS threat to Iraq.

In June, Obama explained his delayed response to the ISIS in a strange way: ISIS pressure on Baghdad was essential to ease Nouri al-Maliki out of the Prime Ministership. Was ISIS a force at his command?

Even after the change of guards in Baghdad, differences persisted with the US approach. Complaint from Najaf was that the US was not holding ISIS back from its advance towards Baghdad. ISIS men had moved into Iraqi villages on motor cycles. After planting their flag, they had moved on, inviting air attacks on targets the US had no idea about. These, it turns out, were ISIS targets.

In early stages of their Afghan operations in 2001-02, US had been likewise lured to attack bogus targets, sometimes becoming unintentional parties in local, tribal conflicts.

US military has been arguing that Iraqi Shia militias should not attack ISIS positions before the US air force is in possession of ground intelligence. But Baghdad believes Militia operations against the Islamic State have created a sense of security in the Shia south.

The ISIS is, by most accounts, a double edged sword. It has Salafi and Baath mutated-to-Sunni forces focused on the Shia enemy. Its even more virile Muslim Brotherhood forces are a nightmare to the Saudis at the other end of the spectrum. If they are thwarted in their purposes in Iraq, they could well turn their attention elsewhere and appeal to the Brother’s extensive support base inside Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

This is complicating enough. To add to the West’s headaches, Putin has shut down the South Stream pipeline to Europe and has struck a bold new deal with Turkey.

Modi is in the midst of foreign affairs at a time when the world is in the grip of dizzying change.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Has Modi Changed Caste Politics Or Can Caste Pyramid Return?

Has Modi Changed Caste Politics Or Can Caste Pyramid Return?
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Eminent TV anchor, Rajdeep Sardesai, has in a recent article drawn attention to the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has restored balance to his cabinet by inducting Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu, two Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, as full fledged ministers. Some writers took him to task for his Brahminical digression, strange in a country where caste drives so much of public life.

The electoral typhoon that brought Modi to power in May was in total defiance of conventional caste calculations. Do the new inductions spell a reversal to, well, old trends? Does Modi aim to pursue RSS’s vision of Hindu Rashtra in which the old caste pyramid will be reinstated? Or, am I jumping the gun?

I was tempted to say a thing or two but I hesitate because I have memories of an earlier mishap. My collection of essays published in 1996, when P.V. Narasimha Rao’s term came to an ignominious end, was titled “The Last Brahmin Prime Minister?” My friends were infuriated. How dare I make such a casteist prediction?

I had done nothing of the sort. The big fact question mark at the end of the title was inserted at the instance of a quintessential Brahmin, my late guru and friend, Rishi Kumar Mishra. It was a statement in itself. It was specifically designed to anticipate Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Yes, trends then did suggest an end, or atleast a temporary suspension, of the traditional premium on Brahmins as Prime Ministers.

Eversince Mahatma Gandhi tipped the scales in favour of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Independent India’s first Prime Minister, that has become something of a norm: a Brahmin Prime Minister has been the most durable. In this framework, Rajiv Gandhi would be counted a Brahmin, and not a Parsi which is what he technically was.

Every non Brahmin Prime Minister lasted a year or less – Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Dewe Gowda, I.K. Gujral. Yes, Manmohan Singh’s is an exceptional case. He was a CEO nominated by Sonia Gandhi at a miraculous moment of power she created for herself by an act of renunciation.

By the time P.V. Narasimha Rao ascended the gaddi, it was more or less clear that the Brahmin line was coming to an end.

The continuous sniping between P.V. Narasimha Rao and Arjun Singh was most debilitating for the Congress. Since Arjun Singh also happened to be a Thakur, the rivalry acquired a pronounced, Thakur-Brahmin edge. The Brahmin won but only after coordinating politics with the BJP.

After the Babari Masjid debacle, PV took courage in his hands and, at the Tirupati session of the AICC in 1993, ordered elections to the Congress Working Committee. To PV’s chagrin, Arjun Singh won by the largest margin, demonstrating his control on the party machine. Next in popularity were Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. An unnerved PV annulled the results.

Thereafter, the decline of the Brahmin in public life became PV’s principal concern. When Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984 on the sympathy wave for Indira Gandhi’s murder, with a two thirds majority in a House of 544, of the 198 upper castes in the House, there were 79 Brahmins. But in 1991, the number dropped drastically. UP alone had returned 22 Brahmins in 1984. After 1991, the number of Brahmins on the Congress ticket was down to two.

The trend was reflected in the manner in which Brahmins of all hues were rejected in the 1991 elections. If V.N. Gadgil and Vasant Sathe lost in Maharashtra on the Congress ticket, so did Madhu Dandwate on the Janata Dal ticket. As did Ramakrishna Hegde in Karnataka.

There I go opening my mouth again in a sensitive caste debate. But let me say my two penny bit. Having grown up among Brahmins (and others) in the region of UP, I am inclined to the view that Brahmins reared in the area of Triveni, Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura, Haridwar are much more relaxed about their Brahminism than the self conscious “twice-borns” from the regions.

In which case how does one explain the inelegant communalism of Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Rithambara, Giriraj Singh and the unforgettable Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti whose “Haramzada” is reverberating in the Rajya Sabha? “None of these are Brahmins”, interjects BJP functionary, clearly wearing his caste on his sleeve.

A masterly sociological study by Robert Frykenberg, establishes a model which is as valid today as it was in the 18th century.

During Maratha expansion, Guntur came under the rule of the Marathas who brought with them their own administrators. The British had set up their headquarters at Fort St. George.

A British ICS officer posted to Guntur as collector noticed inordinate delays and obstructions in implementation.

Inquiries reached a dead end because files, which would explain the delays, could not be traced. It was all so cleverly orchestrated that it was impossible to identify the culprit.

The exasperated officer approached Fort St. George for intervention. Here too, there was no headway. In fact it was even more tardy.

Matters reached the Privy Council in London. Only then was the Gordian knot unloosed.

The Privy Council found that most of the administrators the Marathas brought with them were Desastha Brahmins. When the Marathas made way for the British, who retained the middle and lower administrators, because of their outstanding abilities. The British were obviously innocent of their genius for clan networking. This network had spread from Guntur to Fort St. George.

Now, let me tell you a different story from among the Brahmins I have grown up with.

After the fall of the Babari Masjid, riots spread in Kanpur. My energetic cameraman, Kabir Khan (now a renowned film maker) accumulated interviews from four locations where Mobs tried to attack Muslims but were repulsed by those Hindus, who we unfortunately tend not to take note of.

A lone woman hid Rukhsana Bi in a trunk. The rioters asked her to swear on “Lord Rama” that she was not sheltering a Muslim. She did. She is known in the neighbourhood as “Panditaen”, which mean “wife of a Pandit”.

Tripathiji protected more than a hundred women and children sheltered in a private garden. He sent the mob away.

An elderly lady wearing a white sari climbed onto the roof of her house. She threatened to rain bricks on the mob if they move towards the Muslim basti. The Muslims address her as Mishraen Amma.

Pandeji stands in a narrow alley and with his bare hands pushes back a mob carrying torches.

Can only a Brahmin push back a rioting mob without any risk to his life? Is this deference to “Panditji” a thing of the past? It isn’t in UP, whatever the Brahmin’s political condition.

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