Friday, July 28, 2017

China Briefing Diplomats On Doklam: Doval Must Follow Up For India

China Briefing Diplomats On Doklam: Doval Must Follow Up For India
                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

It reflects on the delicate diplomacy involved that the principal issue in the China-India standoff at Doklam is being mentioned only in muted tones. The problem is the undemarcated boundary between China and Bhutan. This demarcation would require Bhutan-China to settle the matter. The two doing a pirouette is not a good sight for India, which has a special bond with Bhutan sanctified in a treaty signed in 1949. Clause 2 of the treaty amended in 2007, (on which later) stated that Thimpu would be “guided by the advice of the government of India in its external relations”. How can Thimpu settle its border, independent of the Sino-Indian boundary?

Thimpu needed chaperoning when it took its first baby steps as a sovereign state. But once it came of age and made a formal debut at the UN’s great ball (at India’s initiative) in 1971, it began to feel the urge to dance with other partners, ofcourse, without rupturing the special bond dictated by the 1949 treaty. India would remain more equal than others but others there shall surely be. India says “fine” but has palpitations when it fears that Bhutan may be groping for China’s hand.

At the coronation of the present king’s father Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 1974, Foreign Minister, Dawa Tsering said something that was not honeyed music to New Delhi.

India’s advice in the conduct of foreign affairs was welcome but “not binding” on Bhutan, he said. Indeed, among those invited to the coronation was China which turned up with a delegation, not a pleasing sight for the Indian contingent. A gentle, feather touch has marked Indo-Bhutanese diplomacy in both the capitals. Years 1978-79, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the External Affairs Minister, were marked by considerable warmth in relations.

In August 1978, diplomatic missions in New Delhi received a circular note from the Bhutan mission that henceforth it should be addressed as the Royal Bhutan Embassy. The upgradation of the mission was not without considerable debate in South Block.

Prime Minister Morarji Desai downwards there was an entire hierarchy, principally Foreign Secretary Jagat Mehta, endorsing a more relaxed policy towards Bhutan freeing the Himalayan kingdom from the more restrictive interpretations of the 1949 treaty. But there were hawks too

Desai’s government fell in July 1979 making way for Charan Singh’s five month rule. More damage was done to New Delhi’s relations with Thimpu during this brief period by the new, inexperienced External Affairs Minister, Shyam Nandan Mishra, than at any other period.

He led the Indian delegation to the Havana summit of Non-Aligned Nation where the King of Bhutan took a position on a key issue which was independent to the brief Mishra was carrying.

The cold war was at its peak. Indo-China was still at the centre of conflict. The two blocs were in fierce competition on who should occupy Kampuchea’s seat at the summit? Pol Pot, backed by US and China, or Heng Samrin installed in Phnom Penh after Vietnam ousted Pol Pot. He set up sanctuaries on the border with Thailand.

It seems almost comical to reflect that the world was, in the late 70s, riveted on Phnom Penh, Pol Pot and Heng Samrin. But contemplate the global picture, and the chips fall into place.

In 1972, Nixon’s visit to Beijing, creating a triangular strategic balance disadvantageous to Moscow. In 1978 Communists had come to power in Kabul, paving the way for Soviet invasion. Next year, the Shah fell in Tehran. A pro West Morarji Desai lost power in 1979. But in Pakistan, a pro West Zia ul Haq held onto power.

After what I saw at the battle of Lang Son, it was clear as daylight who won but American media dragged its feet conceding victory to Vietnam in the Sino-Vietnam war of 1979. Vietnam’s ouster of Pol Pot, his genocidal record notwithstanding, was, on the global chessboard, a reversal for both China and the US. Their romance was in its 9th year.

It was in this tense global situation that Mishra, on his first mission as foreign minister, attempted to goad the King towards Heng Samrin (Soviet Union) while his own position was unclear. He must have made for a clumsy diplomat, because the King voted for Pol Pot much to the glee of US, China and Pakistan.

So cross was the King by the indecorous way he had been handled in Havana, that, on his way back to Thimpu, he sought me out for what turned out to be a controversial interview. This was the only interview the King of Bhutan had ever granted to the media. I was then the Special Correspondent of the Indian Express.

He clarified his vote in Havana. If Bhutan had not asked for Pol Pot’s representative to be seated at Havana, it would have been tantamount to endorsing Vietnamese armed intervention in Kampuchea. He then made the allegation, “India took no position at all: can you blame us if we took one and can our stand be described as being in opposition to India?” India’s stand was neither here nor there: let Pol Pot be seated but not participate – a non stand endorsed at an earlier NAM meet.

On the relevance of the 1949 treaty he said: “If you want my candid reply and not a diplomatic one – the treaty can certainly be brought upto date.” The two countries have not had serious differences in the interpretation of Article 2 of the treaty. “But why should we retain a treaty which can lend itself to loose interpretations?”

The King was uncomfortable with the expression “close consultations” defining relations. He preferred “close understanding” – consultations implied advice.

The spirit of what the King said in September, 1979, influenced the language of the treaty when it was revised in 2007. The new words were, “India and Bhutan will cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither government should allow its territory for activities harmful to its national security.”

What will be the upshot of the Doklam standoff? Well, the king’s explosive interview (on which more later), did have a ripple effect which, in slow measure, resulted in an amended treaty, freeing Bhutan somewhat.

In the given situation, similar advantages will accrue to Bhutan post Doklam. These advantages will not displease China.

After his return from Beijing, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, must brief the diplomatic corps in New Delhi which so far has heard only from the Chinese here and in important capitals. To my knowledge only the American have been briefed by South Block.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Should Journalists Protect National Interest Or Publish And Be Damned?

Should Journalists Protect National Interest Or Publish And Be Damned?
                                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s fate hangs in the balance on unexplained finances, most specifically for apartments he acquired on London’s most expensive stretch, Park Lane, facing Hyde Park. I visited the most prized of these apartments on October 15, 1999, days after Gen. Pervez Musharraf ousted him in a coup on October 12.

To make sense of the military handouts explaining the situation, I turned up in London to interview his youngest son, Hasan then 23, who, I presumed would have been in touch with members of his family in Islamabad and Lahore.

What struck me and my camera crew were the rich, opulent interiors, heavy curtains one would expect at the Savoy and the Dorchester, sofas with upholstery so expensive as to hover between class and vulgarity. The deep corridors lead to many bedrooms, one of which Hasan occupied even when he was at London University. To elevate the grand style of the Sharifs was a butler in attendance, wearing tails of impeccable cut, as if he were off to the Ascot races.

My interview with Hasan was about the coup and its aftermath, but as the 118 Park Lane acquired saliency in the current corruption saga, I looked at the video again from the angle of “ill-gotten wealth”. There was plenty of it in the footage.

A thought crossed my mind: it might be of interest to TV channels in Pakistan.

Immediately, my hand was stayed by a left-liberal friend in the media.

“This footage will weaken civil society which is suspicious of Imran Khan’s collusion with the army.”

Two schools of journalism were suddenly in conflict. Should Nawaz Sharif’s alleged corruption be overlooked because protecting him against Imran Khan served some higher purpose? Publish and be damned is what I had been taught when confronted with such situations.

Another story, ironically this one concerning Imran Khan, comes to mind.

I had turned up in Israel, to interview Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir totally against the advice of my left-liberal friends – Prof. Mushirul Hasan, for instance. Muslim Congressmen surrounding Rajiv Gandhi were advising him against upgrading relations with Israel “because the Muslim vote would be adversely affected.” This, I wrote, was rubbish. Salman Rushdie, Shah Bano, Babari Masjid and relations with Israel were not life and death issues for Indian Muslims. Education, entrepreneurial help, jobs were the substantive issue. It was this argument I had armed myself with for my journey to Jerusalem. We would be that much more influential on the Palestinian issue I had argued.

Linda, the Press Secretary to Shamir showed me a list of “Pakistanis who claimed to have been sent by Imran Khan to explore relations with the Jewish state”. Remember Jemima was married to Imran and her multi billionaire father, Sir James Goldsmith wielded great influence in Jerusalem. I did not write that story because Imran then was much more a cricketer than politician. Moreover, Linda had shared this information in confidence on a personal basis.  

When Benazir Bhutto sought a conversation with Israeli President Ezer Weizman during Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in Pretoria in 1994, I did mention the fact. She was a Prime Minister, trying to connect with Israel clandestinely.

When the Janata government under Morarji Desai encouraged Bhutan to open up gradually in international affairs, south block was split on the pace of this openness. At this juncture the successor government of Prime Minister Charan Singh, hurriedly invited Shyam Nandan Mishra, the MP from Bihar, to attend the Non Aligned Summit in Havana in September 1979 as the new External Affairs Minister. A novice in world affairs, Mishra put his foot in his mouth on a secret treaty which guides Indo-Bhutan relations.

So cross was King Jigme Singye Wangchuk that he invited me to Mumbai where he was halting on his journey from Havana. This was most unprecedented. No king of Bhutan had ever given an interview to a journalist.

The interview, published behind the back of the establishment, created a sensation. The hawks in South Block were angry because I had provided a forum to the King to vent his anger on a very sensitive issue which may give a handle to China. In those days also “grazing grounds” between Bhutan and China were an issue. Head of Bhutan’s Geological Survey, Sonam Ragbey, was in and out of New Delhi with maps. It was all very hush, hush.

The dilemma facing me then was: should I have anticipated the Indian hawks and, posing as a protector of the national interest, killed the story? Or should I abide by the old dictum: publish and be dammed?

I took the latter route.

A quest for balance on International Affairs in the Indian media has always been a fool’s errand. The Imperial-colonial stranglehold obtains to this day. When Ronald Reagan bombed Bengazi and Tripoli in April 1986 because US intelligence had picked up chatter in a Berlin discotheque that Libyan terrorists were about to target Western locations, the story was either not noticed in India or the western version was wallowed hook line and sinker.

When I turned up in Tripoli to interview Qaddafi whose six month old daughter had been killed in the air raid on his Palace, I was regarded as a subversive, blackleg by the western press corps. I still remember a disapproving Kate Aide of the BBC in the hotel room opposite mine.

The entire anti Qaddafi propaganda was based on falsehoods. Should I go along with the powerful conventional wisdom forged globally or puncture it since I had witnessed the incontrovertible truth?

The interview made banner headlines in European newspapers like La Republica, but I also lived to see how powerful the western lobbies were on that solitary event.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had dispatched his external affairs minister, Bali Ram Bhagat to commiserate with Qaddafi in Tripoli, came under such heavy pressure from the Reagan White House, that he was obliged to make Bhagat the scapegoat. He was sacked.

It was clear as daylight once again that in situations like this, whatever the official line, the only principle a journalist with spine must abide by is, “publish and be damned”.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Enemy’s Enemy Is My Friend: BJP, CPM Target Mamata

Enemy’s Enemy Is My Friend: BJP, CPM Target Mamata
                                                                             Saeed Naqvi

On the eve of the May, 2016, West Bengal Assembly elections, Arun Jaitley shared his campaign experiences with some editors. When he attacked Mamata Bannerjee and the Left-Congress Front in equal measure, the crowd’s response was tepid. When he attacked TMC for 60 percent of his speech, there was some applause. But when his speech was 75 percent invective against the TMC, the applause was thunderous.

The editor who passed on these “findings” to me was then a key figure in the Kolkata establishment. He was amplifying something he liked to believe. So opposed to Mamata was he that he claimed some credit for helping stitch together what was patently an absurd arrangement: Congress and the CPM would hold hands in Bengal, but fight each other in Kerala. They were trounced.

Jaitley’s unflattering report about Mamata’s electoral fortunes can be easily explained. His meetings, obviously organized by RSS cadres consisted of crowds who were presumably anti Mamata. His narrative also revealed that, in charting out a future in Bengal, the BJP saw Mamata as a much more formidable obstacle than the Congress-Left combine.

That outcome is precisely what the BJP is up against now that Amit Shah is preparing the turf for the 2019 elections.

In this framework, how does the communal violence following Basirhat play itself out? First, it must be registered that there have been a dozen or so clashes in the state after Mamata’s reelection. It must be said to the credit of CPM’s 36 year rule: Communal riots were almost non existent. Some of what is happening now is clearly part of the BJP’s effort to create an atmosphere conducive to communal polarization.

It is difficult to see how the BJP can profit from efforts at Hindu consolidation in a state with anywhere between 30 to 35 percent Muslim population. In the absence of a reliable census, these are the figures most parties privately cite. Promoting communalism would leave this bloc vote consolidated exactly where it is: behind Mamata.

Considering that this very same vote stood four square behind the CPM for 34 years, mostly under the charismatic Chief Ministership of Jyoti Basu, its support for Mamata need not theoretically be seen as permanent.

This probably is the desperate hope the CPM nurses. To enhance Mamata’s vulnerabilities it has thrown its lot with the BJP: an enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Just as the self defeating formula, CPM + Congress, for May, 2016 elections was credited to the CPM secretary General Sitaram Yechury, the strategy of attacking TMC just when it is in RSS-BJP line of fire, is widely believed to be the line enunciated by former party Secretary General Prakash Karat.

Quite clearly the party has not yet digested the harsh reality that it was trounced by TMC, that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was West Bengal’s Gorbachev. In the rush to reform both had lost control.

The Marxist government’s conflict with peasants in Nandigram in March, 2007, set into motion a series of events which ultimately dethroned the CPM. Karat’s diagnosis was that the anger of Muslim peasants had been stoked by a combination of Jamiat, TMC and Naxalities.

Muslim peasants, fearful of losing their lands for a Special Economic Zone, was the basis on which CPML groups worked hard to mobilize a powerful movement. Jamiat may have played a role since the peasants were Muslim. The only party in the fray to take electoral advantage was the TMC.

It was a masterstroke of political opportunism by Mamata. Having lost the 2006 assembly election, she turned her fortunes around using Singur and Nandigram as fulcrums.

A leader’s political durability in Kolkata can sometimes be measured by political currents in neighbouring states – Tripura for instance.

Possibly inspired by Mamata’s rise, the President of the Congress in Tripura, Sudip Roy Burman switched to the TMC. But when he saw the Modi wave sweeping across UP and the TV channels, he turned up in Guwahati to promise support the BJP’s Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind.

Now, Agartala is rife with rumours that six TMC MLAs are likely to join the BJP in the coming weeks. In other words, the BJP, which had no member in the Assembly, will suddenly have six.

This sudden inflation of BJP legislators will have ample moral support from the rabidly anti Muslim Governor Tathagata Roy. His recommendation on how Muslim terrorists should be punished, borders on the Macabre:  “Wrap them in pigskin and bury them face down in Pig’s excreta.”

Tripura has been under CPM rule for the past 32 years. But the anti CPM vote mostly rallied around the Congress in the past. As elsewhere in the country (West Bengal too) the Congress has reduced itself to a virtual non entity in the state. At the grassroots, this space is being occupied by the energetic BJP cadres. Taking a holistic view, these must be seen as some of the chinks in the TMC armour.

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