01 The Muslim Aftab Ansari



29, Kolkata

AFTAB ALAM Ansari has not heard about the infamous statement by former US president George W Bush — “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” His tryst with the Uttar Pradesh police, however, drove the implicit message of mistrust in Bush’s words home. Ansari paid a heavy price for his Muslim identity when he was informed by the CID that his name was Mukhtar and that he was involved in the serial blasts that took place on 23 November 2007, in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad. In spite of his vehement protests and attempts to prove his true identity, Ansari was picked up by the policemen. “I realised how one day can completely change a life,” he recalls.

Ansari, the sole breadwinner of a family of eight, was tortured by the police for 22 days in custody. He was made to lie on a wooden bench with his hands and legs tied. “Then they made me stand naked and hit me with batons and rubber belts. My leg still aches,” he says. Later, a Lucknow court found him innocent and released him.

For Ansari, being labelled a terrorist was graver than physical torture. The media only reported the police’s version. His sister’s engagement broke off. Ansari’s friends joked that he was released because he was not a bearded Muslim.

Since then, he has attended conventions where he met many Muslims who had suffered similarly. His only wish is that the government should not harass those who are already destined to battle for survival in their day-to-day lives.

Thufail PT


Shall We Tell the President?

Someone please tell Obama that he needs us more than we need him

BY Prem Shankar Jha
Senior Journalist

Illustration: Naorem Ashish

ON 1 JUNE, when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters and killed nine Turks, British Prime Minister David Cameron deplored the act as “unacceptable” and called for a “full, independent and impartial inquiry” into the incident.

Only days later in Bengaluru, Cameron was forthright in his criticism of Pakistan’s covert support of the Taliban and al Qaeda: “We cannot tolerate in any sense,” he said, “the idea that this country (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world”.

For India, these were welcome sentiments, but they failed to resonate across the Atlantic. Days before his visit to India, President Barack Obama announced a second gargantuan dose of military aid to Pakistan — another $2 billion a year for four years for 2013-16. This aid came with no caveat that Pakistan would buy only weapons to use against the Taliban and its affiliates in tribal agencies. It was as if the Kerry-Lugar Bill never existed.

In addition, Pakistan would continue to receive $1.5 billion a year of economic aid for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration has therefore committed itself to giving Pakistan $28 billion of aid over eight years, in addition to the $16 billion that the Bush administration gave it in 2002-08. Of the combined total, $26 billion will consist of weapons that, with a few exceptions, can be used only against India.

The thought does not seem to have crossed Obama’s mind that such a huge military aid package to, and engaging in three days of ‘intense strategic discussions’ with, a country whose army chief seldom misses an opportunity to remind the world that he considers India, and not the Taliban, to be his country’s main enemy, would make a mockery of his visit to India. Doubtless his advisers had told him that India’s bark was worse than its bite. All he needed to do to contain the fallout was massage a few Indian egos, lift a few sanctions on technology transfers, give empty assurances that the US will not allow Pakistan to use American weapons against India and, if the going gets tough, remind New Delhi that it has only its refusal to ‘settle’ the Kashmir dispute on ‘mutually acceptable’ terms to blame for Pakistan’s hostile attitude.

Obama needs to remember that India has sufficient foreign exchange reserves and military might to help contain hegemony

Delhi now has two choices. It can swallow the US’ blatant disregard for its vital interests; its spin doctors can huddle together with Obama’s to persuade the Indian public that the visit has marked a great step forward in Indo-American relations. Or it can defend India’s vital interests and do some really plain speaking to Obama when he is here.

If it decides to do the latter, it should tell him that today the US needs India more than India needs the US. Its hegemony over the modern world is in irretrievable decline. It faces a challenge not only from China but from al Qaeda, both of whom are concentrating on wooing Pakistan — China with nuclear reactors and conventional weapons and al Qaeda with offers of peace in exchange for shelter. The US is therefore arming to the teeth a country over which it will inevitably have less and less control in the coming years.

Obama, in short, is sowing the wind. He is doing so in the calculated hope that Pakistan will, in return, help it to make a facesaving exit from Afghanistan. Once the US is out of Afghanistan, he is perfectly willing to let others reap the whirlwind. He does not realise that his short-sighted strategy, if it can be called one, will only strengthen al Qaeda’s challenge and drag the US closer to another, more costly, war.

Obama also needs to be reminded that India, with a balanced economy growing at 9 percent a year, sufficient foreign exchange reserves to cover 24 months of imports, and 1.5 million men under arms, has the economic and military power to help contain both the new contenders for hegemony. India also has the strongest of motives for doing so because it is squarely in the gun sights of both contenders. But it will only do so if it becomes a part of the decision-making process, and not be asked to go along with decisions taken in Washington or London.


Illustration: Naorem Ashish

The west has only belatedly begun to recognise the challenge from China. Till as recently as the Beijing Olympics of 2008, the consensus in the US outside the immediate confines of the Bush administration was that China was bent upon seeking respectability and therefore most unwilling to rock the international boat. Its political ambitions, the west believed, were limited to its immediate backyard, specifically the Indo-Tibetan border and the South China Sea.

There were some signs even then that China had another, more ambitious, agenda. By the end of 2007, it had already invested $1.6 billion in infrastructure and extractive projects in all but three or four small countries in Africa. This did not arouse undue concern because it was about what one would expect from a new, cash-rich economic power that was seeking to embed itself in an existing power structure as a benevolent and responsible player. But by 2009 its foreign investments, even in Africa, had taken on a very different colour. In the first six months of the year these jumped by a whopping 78.6 percent over the previous year, to $875 million. China also signed $33 billion worth of labour service contracts in the first 10 months and completed $20 billion worth of earlier projects.

Today, no one seriously doubts that China’s main goal in Africa is not just to secure a claim on its mineral wealth, but to replace western with Chinese hegemony by doing for the Africans what the west has often promised but so far failed to deliver. The proof of this lies not only in the very large investment going into roads, power plants, ports and other infrastructure projects, but the terms on which it is giving its loans, which are far more liberal than those being offered by the western commercial banks.

However, it is China’s most recent actions that reveal the full extent of its growing disregard for the existing norms and conventions of international conduct.

First, its categorical refusal during the last-minute talks between Obama and the G-4 (BASIC) countries at Copenhagen, to accept international monitoring and verification of its CO2 emissions.

Second, the manner in which it disrupted the US-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea originally scheduled for the end of June.

The West does not recognise true threat. If war is a weapon of last resort for China, for al Qaeda, it is the first and only weapon

Third, its casual announcement that it was going to supply Pakistan with two more plutonium-based and virtually unsafeguarded nuclear reactors in the face of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG)’s refusal to endorse the ‘sale’.

Fourth, its threat to stop contracted exports of rare earths to Japan forced Tokyo to release the Chinese trawler captain who rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels off the Senkaku islands.

Fifth, its despatch of Chinese soldiers into Pakistan-administered Kashmir allegedly to help in flood relief, without recognising that this was a disputed area on which the only claim that could be sustained in international law was that of India. Not only did it send its troops in, but it did so without the courtesy of informing New Delhi of this action and assuring it that this was a one-time action designed to help a neighbour in distress.

Sixth, and perhaps most disturbing, is its commencement of work on five dams on the Brahmaputra to generate 40,000 MW of power in Tibet, and divert an undisclosed amount of its waters northwards, without entering into consultation, let alone prior agreement, with lower riparian countries India and Bangladesh.

The most recent is perhaps the least important, but speaks volumes. It is the outcry in China against the Nobel committee for awarding the Peace Prize to Liu Xaobo.

All these actions have an ‘in your face ‘ quality that reeks of unilateralism and shows that China’s goal has changed from taking a place commensurate with its economic power in the existing international order to reshaping the international order to serve its strategic interests and goals.

China is a modern nation state with aspirations, and ways of expressing them, that the world is familiar with. Its quest for hegemony is territorial, and therefore negotiable. But the challenge from al Qaeda is more dangerous because its challenge is ideological and brooks no compromise. Its goal is an outright defeat of the ‘Great Satan’ and the establishment of government according to the strictest interpretation of the tenets of Islam, in all the countries where its flag once flew. It understands that the growing interdependence of the globalised world is its Achilles heel. Its goal is therefore to disrupt these links.

Bush thought he could make Pakistan join the war on terror, but all he succeeded in doing was drive the ISI-terrorist links underground

China is wedded to the Westphalian state system, which relies on deterrence to maintain peace. In sharp contrast, al Qaeda owes its growth to the west’s abandonment of the Westphalian system and increasing reliance on the pre-emptive use of force after 9/11. It therefore has no intention of abandoning the strategy it has accidentally discovered, of continually enticing the west into wars that it cannot win, in order to wear it out. For China, therefore, war would be a weapon of last resort. For al Qaeda, it is the first and only weapon.

The west’s slowness in recognising the true threat that al Qaeda poses is easy to understand. For at first sight it is difficult to see how a shadowy conglomeration of stateless Islamist zealots, spread thinly over Asia and the Middle East, can even remotely be placed in the same category of challengers as China. History, however, offers an instructive parallel: For more than 20 years, the banking ‘families’ of Genoa exercised virtually unchallenged financial hegemony over Europe. The Genoese bankers too were ‘non-state actors’ but were able to exercise financial hegemony because of the protection they enjoyed from Spain, then the most powerful nation in Europe.

AL QAEDA is seeking to duplicate what Genoa did in the 15th century. It is therefore looking for a powerful protector state that can give it the shelter and the logistical support it needs to launch its challenge for hegemony. It is more than halfway to finding that state in Pakistan.

The change in al Qaeda’s goal has been ably described by Pakistani journalist and author Arif Jamal, who spent more than decade living in the camps of, and studying, the jihadi organisations in Pakistan.

According to him, Al Zawahiri now belongs to the ‘historic’ al Qaeda that consisted mainly of Arab Mujahideen left over from the first Afghan war. In the last decade, it has evolved into a new organisation that he has named the Jihad International Incorporated. The centre of this movement lies in Pakistan.

Jamal concludes that the state they have elected to become its haven and military protector is not Afghanistan but Pakistan. In an interview he gave in July 2009, he summed up the change as follows:

“The new Jihad International Inc appears to be aiming at Pakistan rather than at the west. It seems to be trying to take over Islamabad and to turn it into a springboard for global jihad. The difference between the ‘historic’ al-Qaeda and the new Jihad International Inc is that the latter is dominated by Pakistani jihadis while the former was Arab-oriented with an Arab, Bin Laden, at the top. The other difference is that new Jihad International Inc is aiming at India as a primary target while al Qaeda under Bin Laden wanted to destroy America.”

By first forcing Pakistan to join in the attack on Afghanistan, then arming it to the teeth, then failing to eradicate the hold of the Taliban on Afghanistan, and finally leaving it to face the consequences of Taliban victory in Afghanistan, the US and NATO have made al Qaeda’s task frighteningly easy. For, once the US and NATO are gone, the price that Pakistan will almost certainly have to pay for peace is to give al Qaeda the haven it has been seeking and allow it to continue using its territory as a launch pad for terrorist attacks upon its neighbours and, eventually, the west. When that happens, Pakistan’s conversion into al Qaeda’s nuclear-armed, protector state will be complete.

This is not a decision that any civilian, democratic, government in Pakistan would willingly take. But it is one that the Pakistan army would have little difficulty in making.

In 1947, Pakistan was created with the explicit purpose of providing a haven for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Its army has therefore always considered itself to be the guardian both of the state and of Islam.

The 1979 war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan forged the first links between the Pakistan army’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate and what was to become the global jihad. When the Afghan war began to wind down in 1986, it turned its skills to the promotion of jihad in Indian Kashmir. That was its first foray into the use of ‘non-state actors’ as tools of foreign policy. This was followed by its unsuccessful attempt to use Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to oust the Burhanuddin Rabbani government of Afghanistan and then its successful attempt to use the Taliban. On the eve of 9/11, therefore, the ISIwas the spider at the centre of an Islamist Jihadi web that stretched from Afghanistan through India to Bangladesh and Nepal.

This was the network that President George Bush naively thought he could force the Musharraf government dismantle by making it join his war on terror. All he succeeded in doing was to drive the ISI-terrorist links underground. As revealed by Ajmal Kasab, David Coleman Headley and the Pentagon’s Afghan War documents on Wikileaks, even after receiving $10 billion of military and $6 to $8 billion of economic aid, the ISI has continued to ‘look both ways’ and ‘promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world’.

Despite this, the US administration has clung to the failed policies of its predecessor and continued to shower both economic and military aid upon Pakistan. What Obama has yet to understand is that a ‘protector state’ does not have to be a rogue state. It can have all the trappings of a modern state; it can take part in international negotiations and faithfully meet its responsibilities under various treaties and pacts, and it can be a democracy. It can do all of these things and still turn a blind eye on what al Qaeda plans and launches from its soil. All it needs is plausible deniability and sufficient countervailing power to persuade the rest of the world to respect its sovereignty. Pakistan has both its unique geo-strategic position at the edge of the Central Asian ‘Badlands’ and its nuclear weapons and missiles to dissuade retaliation for attacks launched from its soil.

The plain truth is that the Obama administration is heaping billions of dollars worth of weapons upon an unwilling ally whom it no longer controls.



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