Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump An Outcome Of The Bush World Disorder



Trump An Outcome Of The Bush World Disorder
                                                                     Saeed Naqvi 

It would be almost spiteful to walk upto the US ambassador: “Congratulations, you have Donald Trump as President.” Which way would he look? Secretary of State, John Kerry, has already said it. He is profoundly embarrassed when foreign statesmen confront him: “What is happening in your country?”

Should he become President in November, Trump will have George W. Bush to thank. He is a product of the chaotic world order left behind by Bush and which Barack Obama failed to contain.

D├ętente in the 70s was going badly for the West – Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Italian communist leader Enrico Berlingure on the cover of Time Magazine, Afghan communist parties in Kabul and so on. It was advantage Soviet Union all the way.

Came the Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher counter punch which rattled the Soviet Union. George Bush senior and Thatcher stamped the post soviet order by launching Operation Desert Storm in Iraq but, sensibly, stopped short of dislodging Saddam Hussain.

It fell to the lot of George W. Bush to build a new global architecture. He surrounded himself with bad company – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, even Condoleezza Rice. Deluded by notions of full spectrum global dominance, they botched up the sole superpower moment.

Unbridled chaos was let loose in the guise of the global war on terror. Geraldo Rivera of Fox News actually whipped out a gun on live TV. He would “shoot Osama bin Laden” if he saw him.

Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, threatened Pakistan with dire consequences should General Pervez Musharraf not join the war against exactly the Afghan Jihadis that Pakistan, Saudis and the US had helped train to expel the Soviets. To this day Pakistan and possibly the world is paying the price for that turnaround.

There was no limit to American power. In awe and in admiration, the world fell in line. Two party systems were reinforced, clasping corporate hands. Corporates, linked to international finance, made for a tidy model. The global media and a Murdochized press was to underpin this arrangement.

The economic downturn of 2009 and the declining credibility of the global media began to erode this world order. The latter needs some explanation.

In wartime, the first casualty generally is the truth. Since media is part of all war efforts, it becomes a credible source of propaganda. But during the Bush and Obama years, the US and the West in general have been involved in so many wars, big and small, that the media was kept mobilized for continuous propaganda. The media’s credibility has therefore plummeted.

During the Libyan operation Saudis had to make peace with the Qataris to have the benefit of al Jazeera’s residual credibility. No one was believing Christiane Amanpour, Lyse Doucet and Thomas Friedman and their support staff.

With crony capitalism gnawing at the vitals, two party systems were in gradual disrepair. The suffocated voter was breaking out in new directions.

In an Elia Kazan movie, a small car on a highway is dwarfed by giant trailers on either side. In a manner of speaking the tyres of these trailers are being punctured one by one.

Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Canada, Iceland, Indonesia have all discarded traditional parties and veered to the left. Likewise, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, indeed the European Parliament have shifted right. Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, sworn enemies, had to desperately come together to ward off the challenge from the Far Right: Marine Le Pen. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron’s new political movement has seized the French imagination.

Tony Blair flailed his arms in vain against Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour leader more with the heart of a Michael Foot. And now David Cameron is on sixes and sevens over the BREXIT referendum. Britain’s exit from the European Union will almost certainly bring Europe closer to Russia, much to American discomfort.

Most recently, a promoter of vigilante groups, who promises to toss criminals into the sea, Rodrigo Duterte nicknamed “Digong” is the President-elect of the Philippines. He must get along well with Trump: they speak the same language – sink them in the sea or build a wall to keep Mexicans out or don’t allow Muslims to enter the US or no harm being seen with the KKK and so on.

The tamasha in the US gets even more intriguing if you consider the establishment darling, Hillary Clinton’s electability. A New York Times report talks of the “soaring levels of unpopularity” of Trump and Clinton. “Nearly two-thirds of voters, for example, say that Mr. Trump is not honest and trustworthy. Just as many say the same of Mrs. Clinton.”

There is no evidence of Senator Bernie Sanders attracting such invective. And yet the Democratic Party establishment finds itself bound by rules not to nominate him – the popular surge is for Sanders, though.  Because he is a “socialist” which outside the US means Left of Centre.

So, people are trying to break out of established party structures. They are neither for Tweeledum nor Tweedledee, just as in India and Pakistan where they have experimented with Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf across the border.

When people were switching loyalties in the 70s, Soviet Union was the beneficiary. Today, new faces that emerge represent disgust with that which is. There is a splintering of the world order. And in its place – what will be, will be.

“Rau mein hai rakhsh e umr,
kahan dekhiye thamey;
nay haath bag par hai,
na paa hei rakaab mein.”
(The horse is on full gallop, no one knows where it will stop.
The rider’s hands are not on the reins, nor his feet in the stirrups.)
                                                                                                Ghalib
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Friday, May 20, 2016

Is Rahul Really A Modi Asset As Mamata Believes?



Is Rahul Really A Modi Asset As Mamata Believes?
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi 

The sharpest observation after the five state elections has come from Mamata Banerjee.

“Rahul Gandhi is a Narendera Modi asset”.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul had mounted a bitter attack on Mamata during the campaign in West Bengal. Against this background, would she ever shake hands with the Congress? asked NDTV’s Barkha Dutt. Mamata came down sharply with the above one liner.

The implication of what Mamata said is that Rahul, and the Congress by extension, are a requirement of Modi. They, and they alone, must be the counterpoint for the musical score the BJP is composing.

In fact this composition has been underway well before the May 2014 general election which brought Modi to power. The entire Indian establishment, CII, FICCI, the electronic media, press – everybody was chatting up Rahul to stand in opposition to Modi. He was cajoled, paraded on the stage. Anchors implored him to debate Modi on live TV. As it is, Modi’s 2014 victory was because of the universal disgust with Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh which was harvested by the world’s most expensive election campaign. BJP think tanks now divined that Modi will continue to look good so long as Rahul is projected as the alternative. And Mamata has quickly noticed it.

So, Rahul must remain in play to benefit Modi. Instead of admitting that Rahul is something of a non starter, his coterie keeps making excuses: his take off had been delayed because Rahul wanted to raise the party from scratch. He is teeming with ideas, says Motilal Vohra, Janardan Dwivedi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma. Only, Ahmad Patel sees authority resident elsewhere: “let’s ask madame”. No one is willing to concede that Rahul simply doesn’t fizz.

After P.V. Narasimha Rao brought the Congress tally down to 140 seats in 1996, Sitaram Kesri as Congress President raised it by one to 141, but the next year Sonia plummeted: 114 seats. Electorally, the mother and son combination has done the party no good.

So many of the party’s wounds are self inflicted. Take the tamasha in Assam. If Sonia Gandhi can dig her heals in for her son, who can blame 81 year old Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi dream dreams for his son, Gaurav Gogoi? Why can’t he be the next Chief Minister. Himanta Biswa Sarma was to Gogoi what Amit Shah is to Modi. He was miffed at Gogoi’s brazen nepotism, ofcourse. But Rahul has had a role in driving Sarma away. Sarma describes a meeting with Rahul. “He is arrogant and likes to behave like a master with his servants.” It is universally acknowledged, an angry Sarma has brought down the Congress citadel in Assam.

True, the BJP now is in power in two frontline states – Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. But circumstances impose a certain moderation in both situations. It cannot permit communal excesses and live comfortably with Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar. Nor can it put on war paint against Bangladeshis in Assam at the same time as it is having exceptionally good relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.

An atmosphere of moderation induces other steps. The BJP fields nine Muslim candidates of whom one has survived the fray. What if he becomes a Minister? Badruddin Ajmal of the AIUDF would be a worried man on that count?

And now the imminence of Congress collapse is causing interesting political shifts elsewhere. In Kerala, Muslims have veered away from the Congress and Muslim League. They have voted in large numbers for the Left Front. This is welcome.

There are other lessons in these elections. The Indian ruling class has long deluded itself that the country had a durable two party system. In a multi ethnic, multi religious country where every currency note has to indicate denominations in atleast seventeen languages, to aim for such a system will, in the long run, prove illusory. A durable system of coalitions will surely evolve.

The five state elections have, after all, produced five results. A contest is on between two ideas of India – a federal India and a unitary one. Establishments, of which the media is a part, are generally more comfortable with two national party systems, in bad odour though they be globally. They have since the 90s, bred crony capitalism and corruption. Electoral changes sweeping the world are on that count.

That is why Mamata’s is an astute observation. By describing Rahul as a Modi asset, she is debunking the illusory two party system at the Centre. Yes, two party systems will be the order in the states. Come 2019, leaders like her, from the regions, will shape the power structure in New Delhi. The days of two party compact, above the regional satraps, may be coming to an end. Parties with national pretensions must quickly find lasting partners in the states, not one night stands like the Left and the Congress had in West Bengal.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

The Unknown Who Defined Lucknow’s Lost Generation Bows Out



The Unknown Who Defined Lucknow’s Lost Generation Bows Out
                                                                                        Saeed Naqvi 

The mail from Lucknow was terse.
“Mr. Ibne Hasan Advocate is no more.” He was “Ibne Hasan bhai” to me ever since he cast me as the young Daagh Dehlvi in 1954 in “Dehli Ki Aakhri Shama” (Flicker of the last lamp in Delhi) a Tamseeli Mushaira, enactment of the last poetic gathering in the Red Fort in 1857. Ghalib, Zauq, Momin, Daagh and other great contemporaries participated in this historic soiree.)

The show was staged at the University Union Hall where Ibne, as master of ceremonies, announced a hundred awards for the young Daagh.

The couplet which brought the ceiling down was:
“Jo rahe ishq mein qadam rakkhein,
Woh nasheb o faraz kya jaanein”
(They who step onto the path of love,
Do not distinguish the highs from the lows)

Prof. Ehtesham Hussain, Prof. Aale Ahmad Suroor, Amritlal Nagar, all sent chits of paper to Ibne requesting him to announce awards for me as “Daagh” in their names too. At 14, I was eager to collect these “awards” which, alas, never materialized. One had to take the will for the deed.

This was typical of Lucknow’s intellectual elite – their budgets having shrunk after the Zamindari (landlordism) Abolition of 1951. In a general sort of way they moved in two political directions. Some stayed with the Congress party, largely because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s appeal. Others of a more literary bent gravitated towards progressive causes, even communism. This became the stepping stone for the Progressive Writers Association which received a shot in the arm when P.C. Joshi became Secretary General of the party. Sajjad Zaheer, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Niaz Haider, Saiyyid Mohammad Mehdi, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Balraj Sahni, Bhishm Sahni, Krishan Chander, Mahinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chugtai, Sahir Ludhianvi – the lot – became active in the PWA. Many followed Joshi to Mumbai as “full-time” members of the party. Thence to Bollywood.

There were others who could not make these stark choices. Majaz Lucknowi for instance. Ibne belonged to a whole category of educated youth, highly politicized, but unable to strike a balance between Leftist idealism and the practical requirement of bread for the table.

Because he had been in university with my firebrand Aunt, Alia Askari (later Alia Imam), and addressed my mother a “Baji jaan”, we had a ringside seat on his impecunious circumstance.

He spent his mornings table hopping at the Coffee House, now with Ram Manohar Lohia, Amritlal Nagar, Ehtesham Hussain and, most frequently with Majaz, a genius in the firmament of Urdu poetry but in penury. He had found Bollywood too harsh and retreated into his Lucknow shell. This provided Ibne the opportunity to know Majaz better, even when the latter shifted to Delhi to take up employment at All India Radio. Ibne had no great memory for poetry but he remembered Majaz’s couplet, the first one ever to have been broadcast:

“Saara aalam gosh bar awaz hai,
Aaj kin haathon mein dil ka saaz hai.”
(The world listens with rapt attention.
Who is playing this instrument of the heart?)

Failed love, once with a married woman in Delhi, and another in Lucknow were reasons for nervous breakdowns which resulted in Majaz being confined to psychiatric centres for long spells. This was Ibne’s version as Majaz’s informal Boswell.

Ibne was part of the well knit team Alia Askari put together to organize the Urdu convention in Lucknow’s Qaisar Bagh Baradari in December 1955. The mushaira turned out to be a historic event: Sardar Jafri challenged the audience: let us see who tires first, poets or the audience? The scintillating stalemate continued well past midnight.

Majaz, in an advanced stage of inebriation, had recited a rather tepid ghazal:
“Jigar aur dil ko bachana bhi hai
Nazar aap hi se milana bhi hai.”
(How do I protect my heart,
And yet make eye contact with you?)

No one noticed that someone had whisked Majaz away to a country liquor tavern in a lane near Lalbagh. It is not known what happened on the first floor of the bar. But when the bar opened the next day, Majaz was found lying, in a coma, on the terrace. He had spent a cold December night in the open. Efforts to save him in the nearby Balrampur hospital failed.

The memorial meeting at the Rifah e Aam club, where Ibne, like my elder brother, escorted me, will always remain etched on my mind. As a teenager, I had the priviledge of shedding a tear on the death of a great poet.

Ismat Chugtai was blunt. She put her finger where it hurt.
“Shame on the women who loved his poetry but, for married life, they sought middle class security elsewhere.” Majaz describes this rejection in his masterpiece poem, Awara or Vagabond.

The term “Middle class”, had almost derogatory implications for generations which had transited from feudalism to economic embarrassment but progressive politics. They had totally missed out on the “middle class” experience. Many of our eccentricities, it turns out, derive from that missing link.

Ibne’s political acumen was spotted by Keshav Dev Malaviya, a progressive member of Nehru’s cabinet. This proximity was sought to be exploited by owners of some sugar mills in UP. For Ibne, it was not harmless drudgery. But even these adjustments did not take away from Ibne bhai his unconventional agnosticism.

In his last days Ibne bhai was ailing but still found the strength to recite Majaz’s lines:

“Phir iske baad subah hai,
Aur subhe nav, Majaz
Hum par hai khatm
Shaame gharibaa ne Lucknow.”
(Look, a new dawn breaks. The night of Lucknow’s exiles, will end soon – along with me.)

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Aleppo Milestone: Syria To Limp Along Until US Elections



Aleppo Milestone: Syria To Limp Along Until US Elections
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

Just when it appeared that Syrian rebels and their proxies had thrown in the towel, and that they had been persuaded to acquiesce in a political settlement to be negotiated in Geneva, there is a sudden spike in fighting in the northern city of Aleppo. Its 5.5 million population as against Damascus’ 4.5 million, makes it the country’s most populous city.

Writings in the New York Times, other western and Saudi publications have been talking of a “divided city of Aleppo”. This is ominous.

With Russian help, Syrian forces had won a morale boosting victory in Palmyra. In the third week of March, Russians had all but encircled Aleppo. Why did they spare Izaz, the main smuggling route to Turkey? That is the route through which most new arms and men on brand new vehicles have driven in to revive the mayhem in Aleppo.

Russian Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov has been flourishing “proof” under Secretary of State, John Kerry’s nose: “look so much of this material is brand new and American in origin.”

In the Syrian whodunit, Americans have actually been admitting their mistakes with endearing docility. Remember Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, his face distinctly in the lower mould, being grilled by a congressional committee, then by the media, for the clumsiness of US Special Operations in Syria? The “moderates” they were training left their weapons with the Al-Nusra Front and sought safe passage. Carter announced, on live cameras, that a $500 million training programme had been discontinued.

Asked by Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, why had he not used air strikes when the Islamic State first reared its head, President Obama was honest: that would have released pressure on Iraq’s Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. At that stage, the US-Saudi combine’s priority was to put an end to Maliki’s brazenly pro Shia regime. In that project, the IS was an asset. Is it no longer an asset?

In the latest attacks in Iraq, the IS does not look like a diminished power despite US, Britain and Israel having rung alarm bells across the world. Is this trio confronting the IS powerless?

Arab ambassadors, particularly those opposed to the Saudis, draw diagrams to prove that the IS, in its origins, was a US backed project which may have grown out of US control. Just as Osama bin Laden did.

The other day a journalist in Dhaka placed in my hand a copy of Dabiq, the slick IS online magazine threatening Islamist mayhem in Bangladesh, Myammar, India. Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina’s government in not convinced. She believes her arch rival Begum Khaleda Zia’s Jamaat-e-Islami supporters are behind the recent killings of liberal bloggers, university professors, and minority groups to destabilize her government.

Syrian diplomats on the other hand are targeting Britain with fanciful stories. When British Parliament did not permit Prime Minister David Cameron to attack Assad’s Forces in Syria, British intelligence thought of an alternative scheme: set up the propaganda machine for groups opposed to Assad. Intelligence intercepts, which authorities in Damascus decoded, are cited as evidence.

As one grapples with this confusion, emerges Christiane Amanpour of the CNN subjecting the hapless Ashton Carter to fierce interrogation. She put the fear of God in him. “Aleppo is another Srebrenica waiting to happen.”

Srebrenica became notorious for genocide. Serbian troops separated 8,373 men and boys from their womenfolk during the Bosnian war and, in July 1995, slaughtered them. They were buried in mass graves.

Carter did not rise to the bait. “The misery of Syria can only be ended by reaching a political solution.”

Why this resumption of fierce fighting in Aleppo?

With Russian help, Syrian Forces had regained so much territory that the opposition had very few chips to play with at the bargaining table in Geneva. Turkish demand for a no-fly-zone along the stretch north of Aleppo and the Turkish border has not been conceded. The US would not like to dislodge Kurdish influence in that region. A divided Aleppo gives the Syrian opposition atleast a toehold. Russians would be doing a cost-benefit analysis to see if they can allow that to happen.

The US and Russians had agreed to the original ceasefire primarily between the Syrian Army and groups who accept the ceasefire. The agreement did not provide scope for the Al-Nusra Front or IS to be protected. But the US, under pressure from the Saudis and the Turks, is lumping Al-Nusra with the so called “moderate opposition”.

Roughly, what is going on is this: there are, say, rocket attacks which the Syrian Army compasses show are coming from Nusra held enclaves. The army retaliates. The western media screams murder – look, they are attacking civilians and moderate oppositions.

In other words, Al-Nusra is the miasmal mist behind which a so called moderate opposition is being conceived and forged. What I suspect is being sought is a ceasefire along an imaginary line which will then divide Aleppo. The Syrian-Russian combine would like to impose on Aleppo a fait accompli favourable to them. Syria, I am afraid, will probably limp along a path of non resolution until a new administration in Washington begins to take stock of the situation after November 7.

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