Friday, July 29, 2016

Sanders May Have Dutifully Endorsed Hillary; His Supporters May Not

Sanders May Have Dutifully Endorsed Hillary; His Supporters May Not 
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Balloons in blazing colours billow down the ceiling of the Democratic Convention arena in Philadelphia. Then the cameras pull back, enveloping the Obamas and the Clintons in a shower of confetti, as they walk away from the carnival.

A similar show had ended the previous week in Cleveland where Donald Trump became the Republican nominee. In both instances, it was the razzle dazzle of democracy in the television era.

Narendra Modi’s campaign in 2014 had these trappings too. A total convergence of the media in his favour made it the most expensive campaign ever. It gave him a powerful tail wind. The trio of Mother, Son and Manmohan Singh by contrast, looked limp. The Indian establishment had made up its mind. Modi won.

The world’s most powerful establishment has been working overtime not just to plug a hole but to block a torrent – what Bernie Sanders calls “The revolution”. And it has succeeded in keeping the choices to the Right of Centre. There were many in Philadelphia who, in their detail, are indistinguishable from those gathered in Cleveland.

In recent years, two movements surfaced in the United States: The Tea Party, a conservative ginger group within the Republican Party and Occupy Wall Street, a quasi Socialist wail against inequality.

Trump is the Tea Party candidate. He has leapt over precisely 16 candidates before being crowned in Cleveland. Who could be a stouter pillar of the Republican establishment than the Bush family. Jeb Bush was knocked out flat early in primaries.

In other words Trump has come through a trial by fire. All the dirt thrown at him in Philadelphia had already been hurled at him by fellow Republicans in their attempt to block his way up the nomination ladder. It did not work. Why would “muck” thrown at him in Philadelphia, stick?

It is an easy story but it requires a little research. When did the Democratic Party set its heart on Hillary Clinton as the Presidential nominee? Come wind come weather, the Democratic establishment had made up its mind. The rule book and the rigmarole about super delegates just came in handy.

Even in the Democratic Party there was continuous chatter that Hillary was “untrustworthy”, “dishonest”, that the ghost of ambassador Christopher Stevens would haunt her from distant Benghazi, that investigations on her use of personal computer for “top secret” work would not leave her untainted and so on…..

All of this would be ammunition in the hands of the Republicans. Why then would the Democratic Party go to such lengths despite risks for the November outcome? So faithful to rules was the party that it would risk losing the election to Donald Trump? Most opinion polls suggested that, in a direct contest, Bernie Sanders would beat Trump. Hillary would lose.

There is an overlap in the ruling classes controlling Republican as well as Democratic Party affairs. The picture is not dissimilar to the one in India – Britain, Spain, Italy, Indonesia everywhere. Corporates in Mumbai have in their hands strings to the ruling party as well as the opposition – heads we win, tails you lose.

It turns out that a “socialist” like Sanders was anathema to the controlling elites of both the parties which work in conjunction in the face of such threats as Socialism. The spirit of Joseph McCarthy can be resurrected, not of Edward Murrow, Clarence Darrow and Arthur Miller. The irony is that the Death of a Salesman still draws full houses on Broadway as well as the West end. Possibly the greatest play of the 20th century could well be a contemporary parable on the American Dream and its delusions. And it has massive audiences.

It was frustration and anger at its peak: someone printed Hillary Clinton’s name in the commode at the men’s toilet in the convention arena.

The most poignant moment at the convention was the chant of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” by delegates, some crying copiously and waving Sanders placards, when he stood up to endorse the party’s nominee.

When Hillary Clinton won the nomination, the camera cut to Sanders who had earlier endorsed her in the spirit of Democratic decency. I could not help noticing a wave of sympathy which occasionally erupted in tears. The audience here was in sympathy with the candidate who apparently lost because of institutional machinations.

Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary within the framework of the Democratic Party, does not necessarily result in his supporters augmenting Hillary’s vote share.

Film maker Michael Moore has advanced the theory of the “depressed” voter who may drag himself to the polling booth but will not have the passion to persuade, say, five other voters to do the same. He would have persuaded 10 for Sanders.

This “depressed” voter is not angry with Trump. He is angry with the pro Clinton Democratic machine. If he is 20, or 24 years old today, he can wait until he is 24 or 28. He was for constructive change under Sanders. In his frustration, he may begin to see merit in the other anti establishment candidate – Trump, not because he likes him but because that would stir things up. And four years will pass just like that, in a flicker.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Turkish Catch 22: Erdogan Intolerable For NATO; Turkey Indispensable

Turkish Catch 22: Erdogan Intolerable For NATO; Turkey Indispensable 
                                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

What is the link between Brexit and the failed coup in Turkey? They ring alarm bells for NATO in the time of Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, Pablo Iglesias, Marine Le Pen and gathering anti establishment storms elsewhere. The global right wing establishments are tearing their hair. Donald Trump, Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, once the torch bearer of American Exceptionalism, has broken from the past. America has no right to lecture anyone, he told the New York Times. “We have to fix our own mess.”

Formal disengagement of Britain from Europe weakened the Atlantic Alliance in a way that Europe may, in monuments of pressure, be amenable to Russian blandishments. This is anathema to the Deep State in Washington, Trump or no Trump

All the hyperactivity of NATO members recently in Warsaw had a supreme purpose: to firm up in the Alliance what Donald Rumsfeld famously called New Europe. Old Europe, France and Germany, have become too effete and independent minded. Also, no one knows what continental Europe will look like after elections next year.

These must be desperate times. In the short run, the only point the West can score over Putin is to blacken the names of Russian athletes for “officially sponsored drug abuse” preparatory to the Rio Olympics. And, wait for the American election results.

Into this chaotic cauldron, toss in Erdogan, a key NATO member and his post coup tantrums.

But why is he throwing such a ginger fit? After all, the post coup scenario could well be placing in his hands power that dictators dream of. This causes some analysts to talk of a “false flag”. The Turkish Sufi cleric exiled in the US, Fethullah Gulen, has already made the allegation: the coup may have been staged to arrest Gulen and his supporters. Indeed a list of thousands of teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges cannot have been prepared overnight without extensive planning. But Ankara blames Gulen for plotting the coup.

What is causing gripes in the West after the failed coup is a general sense of relief in Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and southern Lebanon (Hezbullah country). An inference is that the coup’s success would have been welcomed by the West.

The rift between Erdogan and Washington is now a yawning gap. There must be deep consternation in all NATO countries at the continuance of a recalcitrant, increasingly Islamist Turkey in the Alliance. Something must give – and soon.

A well connected Indian businessman in Istanbul on the day of the coup, endorses a popular narrative. The coup would have succeeded had the coup leader not set the cat among the pigeons. He called on the forces to arrest all ISIS hands convalescing in hospitals or wherever they can be located.

Versions coming out of Ankara are something of a puzzle. These suggest that CIA interests in Turkey were averse to ISIS being wiped out. Considering that a universal war on the ISIS has supposedly been ordered by Washington, why this squeamishness about destroying “all” ISIS targets in Turkey? It is just possible that the ISIS was an amalgam of diverse components and that some of these components needed to be preserved.

The other mistake the coup leaders made was to call back Turkish troops from Iraq without intimating US commanders who were on the drawing boards for an operation in Mosul after the successful operation in Fallujah last month.

If the coup had proceeded on track without harming US interests/assets, Erdogan’s goose was more or less cooked. Now that Erdogan has survived, another attempt to do away with him by a bigger, better planned operation must be on the cards. He is filled with anger and rage against Americans. In this mood of his, how reliable a member of NATO is he? Can the Alliance be quite as credible without NATO’s largest army and nuclear facility which happens to be at Incirlik. It was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the height of the Cold War. It is no longer a military secret that the facility still holds 50 B61 hydrogen bombs, each 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.

And just imagine, Erdogan cut off electricity to Incirlik. Why Incirlik? Because he conflated Gulen with Americans? Gulen does have extensive institutional power in Turkey which Americans have had access to for years. Gulen runs his Turkish Empire from his headquarters in Pennsylvania. This explains Erdogan’s caustic comment after the coup failed “Turkey cannot be governed from Pennsylvania”.

NBC news gave currency to a dramatic story. On hearing of the coup, Erdogan rushed to Istanbul where his plane was not allowed to land. The flight was diverted to Germany apparently in such of exile. It was refused landing rights – this was the pattern elsewhere too. Then, miraculously, Erdogan materializes in Turkey just when coup leaders embark on initiatives which the US is averse to. The story acquires more layers when the two Turkish pilots, who brought down two Russian pilots on 24 November, 2015, are named among those held by forces loyal to Erdogan.

F16 fighters controlled by coup leaders were refueled by facilities at the US base at Incirlik.

Erdogan now is intolerable for NATO; Turkey is indispensable to it. That is the Catch 22.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Individual Hackings And Terror Attacks In Bangladesh: A Whodunnit

Individual Hackings And Terror Attacks In Bangladesh: A Whodunnit
                                                                                         Saeed Naqvi

Before we dwell on Bangladesh’s current travails, the good news. It is the only double distilled entity to emerge from Partition. Armed with Bengali nationalism, it shuffled itself out of the Islamic identity the authors of Partition had imposed on the people. It is, therefore, a tough resilient society.

An overwhelming majority had fought Pakistani hegemony to become Bangladesh. But a powerful minority had not – say about 30 percent. This minority, consisting of elements in the army, police, civil service, Islamic groups like the Jamaat e Islami, clustered around spells of army rule and has now thrown its lot with Begum Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League is emotionally (and politically) more inclined towards India. Begum Zia correspondingly leans towards Pakistan. This background was at the back of my mind when I turned up in Dhaka in mid April at the invitation of friends to participate in the Pahela Baisakh festivities. I have never seen Pahela Baisakh, or the Indian New Year, celebrated on the epic scale as in Bangladesh.

Every year I received a card inscribed beautifully in BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi’s hand wishing me a happy New Year on April 14. Like most of my friends, I have grown accustomed to receiving New Year cards in December. I regarded Dr. Joshi’s greetings as his eccentric attachment to a pre historic past. But Pahela Baisakh in Dhaka opened my eyes. Ramana Park, the vast maidan in the heart of Dhaka, was a riot of colours, a carnival like never before. Groups of women, in elegant sarees, bindis on their foreheads, sang Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geet, and, for variety, more contemporary songs in Bengali to the accompaniment of a rock band.

Hilsa, the national fish from Padma river (a pity our Bengalis have access only to the inferior variety) disappears from the market because of Baisakh feasts.

Our hostess at a lunch stood in the hallway, with a packet of bindis in one hand. She put a bindi on the forehead of all the ladies who came for the festivities. Exactly the opposite of the mood this lunch created was available the previous day. Clerics affiliated to the Jamaat, had issued a “fatwa” declaring Baisakh festivities as “haram” or impure. Not only did the lunch take place, but newspapers reported festivities across the country. The people had thumbed their nose at the Mullah.

The basic conflict in Bangladesh is between modernism and Islamism. Contrary to ones expectations, all modernists are not necessarily lined up behind Sheikh Hasina. A large segment is disenchanted with her poor governance and increasing intolerance. But his lot, tested in the 1971 civil war, will never go over the precipice, towards intolerant Islamism. So, there is that anxious waiting and watching on the part of many.

Recently, the powerful Editor of Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam, had 84 cases slapped against him by Awami League workers in the country’s 56 districts because the prime Minister was cross with him. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his newspaper he invited Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Yunus’s name had once surfaced as a possible replacement for Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. His presence at the Daily Star function was therefore seen by a paranoid Prime Minister as the start of another conspiracy against her.

Even though the persistent image in my mind is of Pahela Baisakh in Bangladesh, it is difficult to remain sanguine about the parallel macabre narrative. Soon upon my return, I received news that Prof. Rezaul Karim Siddique had been hacked to death. His contribution to Rajshahi University’s literary life was immense. He was an expert on Tagore and Qazi Nazrul Islam. Soon, the rampant culture of impunity claimed its next victim – Xulhaz Mannan, editor of a gay magazine – then another and another. The climax, ofcourse, was reached with the killing of 28 guests at the restaurant in Dhaka’s elite Gulshan neighbourhood on July 2 followed up by a bomb blast on Eid day. In two years, 51 people, including 20 foreigners have been killed.

Sheikh Hasina blames it all on the opposition combine – Khaleda Zia, Jammat e Islami, Pakistan. The Jamaat is particularly livid with Hasina for the hanging of its chief Motiur Rehman Nizami for his and the organization’s role in the 1971 war crimes.

Since Indo-Bangladesh relations have seldom been better, there is considerable willingness among her advisers to blame Pakistan for attempts to destabilize her.

A Bangladeshi editor has drawn my attention to an interview by ISIS’s official magazine, Dabiq. The interviewee happens to be Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, the “Amir of ISIS soldiers in Bengal”. The Amir strongly chastises the Jamaat, the object of Hasina’s ire.

“Jamaat is a political party that has long committed acts of Kufr (sin) and shirk (deviant behavior). Firstly it supports and calls the Muslims of Bengal to the religion of democracy, and this is blatant shirk. Democracy is a religion that believes in giving people the power to legislate and make things halal or haram, whereas that is the right of Allah alone.”

Hasina is persistent: Jamaat and Pakistan are out to destabilize her. But a disembodied voice informs the unverifiable ISIS mouthpiece Dabiq, that the Jamaat is the devil incarnate.

Place these contradictions in the cauldron, and vapours of confusion choke you. It is difficult to see through this mist. But one bet can be taken: a nation which has paid with millions of lives to win the right to celebrate Pahela Baisakh in its own way, is not going to be brought to its knees easily. I am less sanguine about the political longevity of the two incorrigible ladies.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Istanbul Attack: Turkey, US, Russia Learn Lesson The Hard Way

Istanbul Attack: Turkey, US, Russia Learn Lesson The Hard Way
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

Could the terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport killing 43 and injuring hundreds be a blowback from the Fallujah operations concluded three days ago? Does Fallujah, in the end indicate a more cooperative operation compared to, say, Tikrit last year? Is a resumption of US-Russia cooperation over Syria causing anxiety among abandoned militants?

Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor, described the air strikes on columns of ISIS vehicles on the highway outside Fallujah thus: “there was a video-game quality about the air strikes – the accuracy with which targets were hit.” Are the Americans showing a decisive sense of purpose – a frightening scenario for militant groups protected by regional powers with influence in Washington?

A look at the details of the mosaic. Multiple interests were involved in the Fallujah operations – US advisers and air force, Iraqi forces controlled from Baghdad, Shia militias, mistrustful of Baghdad, but with allegiance to the clerical authorities in Najaf and Karbala. These militias were being advised by Iranian experts.

Americans wanted their own nominee, Prime Minister Haider al Abadi to take the credit. The Fallujah endgame was slow in coming because the Americans carried on their shoulders the burden of protecting and providing safe passage to “assets” holed up in Fallujah affiliated to the Saudis and the Turks. It was a delicate balancing act excellently executed. The balance has presumably been retained in the arrangement with the Russians too.

A complexity in Iraq is the continuing distance between Ayatullah Sistani in Najaf, the ultimate source of Shia authority in Iraq, and Prime Minister Abadi, a Shia but low in Najaf’s esteem. Despite not being given an appointment by Sistani’s entourage last year, Abadi turned up in Najaf. He was sent back without an audience with the Ayatullah.

The clerical collective in Najaf and Karbala would like the Prime Minister in Baghdad to be free of American influences. There is an irony involved here. Had the Americans not knocked out Saddam Hussain and his iron clad, Baathist regime, there would not have been any Shia power in Iraq. Even Najaf may change after Fallujah.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who, until 2012 had shot past even Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the national popularity stakes, slipped badly over Syria. He tore his secular mask and came out in loud Muslim Brotherhood colours.

Brothers became a column in the architecture of the ISIS under Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The central column were the once “Godless” Baathists of Iraq who, in reaction to Shias replacing Saddam Hussain in Baghdad, rediscovered their devout Sunni roots. Money and Salafis came from Saudi Arabia. This, roughly, is how the brand called ISIS was set up.

Remember US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter announce last year that a $500 million programme to train independent groups in Syria had to be abruptly discontinued. Which groups were being trained? Why was the project sunk without trace? The optimistic take on the Americans after Fallujah is this: yes we have been making mistakes but we are learning – more patience please.

The difficulty in Fallujah was similar to the one faced in Tikrit last year – the difficulty of extricating ingredients from the concoction called the ISIS.

In March last year, Shia militias supported by Iran had cornered a powerful ISIS contingent in Tikrit. Americans pressured Abadi to abort the operation. The reason given was plausible: Shia militias triumphing over Sunni ISIS would aggravate the Shia-Sunni divide. Saudi Arabia would throw a fit. Turkey would also not like Muslim Brotherhood elements thus cornered. Brothers were not mentioned but it was understood that Erdogan had interests in the ISIS – his way of fighting Assad without being brazenly in the field.

The reality was somewhat different. Abadi was being pressurized to abort the Tikrit operation because important Saudi assets in Tikrit had to be given safe passage.

The Wall Street Journal reported: “Iraq began its attack without alerting the US or its partners. Instead, Iran played a leading role in guiding Shia militias and providing weapons.”

US spokesman said: “Shia advance on Tikrit got stalled, prompting Iraqi government to seek US air support.”

Iranian version was different: “US brought pressure on Baghdad to withdraw Shia militias from Tikrit. Only then would US launch air strikes.”

An American Field Commander gave the game away: “Iraq is going to have to decide who they want to partner with. We’ve been demonstrating all across the country and now in Tikrit, that we are good and able partners.” After Fallujah, the choices in Baghdad and Najaf should be clear.

The same complications and hesitations that characterized Tikrit surfaced in the Fallujah operation too. But on this occasion Iran, having made its nuclear peace with Washington, was not as motivated to embarrass the Americans. In the end it turned out to be a successful cooperative venture in which the Americans played a demonstrably key role. Erdogan’s change of heart, his about turn on relations with Russia and Israel plus Fallujah may well have precipitated the blowback which cost 43 lives at Istanbul’s airport. A bigger test lies ahead in Mosul where the ISIS first reared its head. Military action can defeat core groups but not the “idea” of ISIS which will unfurl all its fangs in an asymmetrical war called suicide attacks. All countries participating in the Mosul operation must alert their domestic constituencies. Donald Trump’s campaign in the US and post Brexit Xenophobia in Britain are liable to feed on the consequences.

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