|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Friday, December 31, 1999
INDIA AND THE TALIBAN
the West saw India through the ages
of Indian music
THE pressure of running a coalition government is forcing the BJP to reinvent itself. It did that grandly at the meeting of the National Council at Chennai. Politically, it diluted the Hindutva plank, getting ready to dump it altogether in the coming decade, if not the coming year itself. In economic policy the party shed all its reservations and commanded the government to push through the second generation of reforms. All this without any fuss or dissent. The BJP always claims to be a party with a difference; and, indeed the difference between the Bangalore meeting last year and the Chennai one is very striking. Dissent has dried up and it also became meaningless since all top leaders stayed put in Delhi to deal with the Airbus hijack. That robbed the meticulously organised show of any spectacle and, what is more, media attention. The festivities part disappeared because of the death of former President Shankar Dayal Sharma. The ambitiously called Chennai Declaration did arouse interest but it will mostly come handy to critics like Me Kalyan Singh to berate the organisation.
The eclipse of the Hindutva plank is loaded with irony. The final verdict came from Mr L.K.Advani who conceived it, sharpened its contours and converted it into a vote-getting slogan and sentiment. He offered three explanations for resetting the partys ideological compass. One, the reality in the country has changed and the party too has to change. Two, the BJP is an ideological movement and has traversed many phases and the present one is the latest. He recalled the party joining the JP movement and the Janata Government without losing its identity or moorings. So will be the present decision. Three, the government which the party heads at the Centre is an aggregative and represents many ideologies, and refusing to give up past programmes will make it inflexible and a prisoner of ideology. Anyway, he consoled the few unreformed partymen, the sheet anchor of the BJP is its upholding of nationalism and its strong character and the Chennai Declaration makes no compromise on it. He carefully dropped the mandatory prefix cultural to nationalism and slurred over the mild attacks on character during this decade of political power.
Unlike past meetings,
the one this week was listless. The absence of all top
leaders was a major cause. Mr Advani rushed to the
southern city for a few hours, wound up the show and
raced back to join others in finding a way to end the
hostage crisis. The inevitability of burying the Hindutva
concept spread sullenness among the hardliners, who
normally liven up the proceedings. There was some
spirited attempt on Tuesday, the first day of the
meeting, to challenge the leadership and retain the
Hindutva agendas primacy. The party agreed to make
a cosmetic change without affecting the core aim of
distancing itself from the concept. Alternatively, it
talked darkly of those who rebelled and faded away
unsung. That was a clear hint, and not surprisingly,
there are not many to go the Mr Kalyan Singh way. On the
first day both President Kushabhau Thakre and the general
secretaries admitted the difficulties in running a
coalition and the need for aligning the party policy to
meet the demands of allies. That gave the impression
Hindutva had merely been put on the backburner. Mr Advani
entered to frankly tell the 1000-odd delegates that the
controversial concept had outlived its usefulness and it
was time to move on. For the BJP it is not merely a
simple moving on; more importantly, it is a dramatic
change of direction.
The plot thickens
WITH every passing day, new details are emerging, making the hijacking case curiouser and curiouser. That it was no amateur attempt was obvious from day one. But the sweep and the reach of the mischief are only now unfolding. The most unusual is the way in which an apparent accomplice of the hijackers managed to hoodwink the authorities at the air traffic control of Amritsar's Raja Sansi airport on December 24 into believing that he was J. Lal, "joint secretary" in the Ministry of Home Affairs, and ordered them to immediately refuel the aircraft. It was only when the Cabinet Secretary, Mr Prabhat Kumar, rang up some time later that it became known that there was no Joint Secretary named J. Lal in the Home Ministry. That such a hoax could be played with such ease reflects poorly on the functioning of government agencies. Indeed, embarrassing question marks are being put on the working at many levels. If it is true that the Prime Minister was not informed of the incident for a full 40 minutes, it is an even sadder reflection. In such an unusual situation, those crucial minutes meant life and death for the victims. Things had come to such a pass that the Crisis Management Group, which should have swung into action at once, was groping in the dark for long hours on that particular day. Whether or not the hijackers did a dry run before commandeering the plane, as someone suggested to the Home Minister, it is a fact that the Crisis Management Group should rehearse how to deal with various worst-case scenarios to prepare itself for any eventuality. But it seemed to have fumbled when the crunch came. And the transcript of the conversation between the pilot and the ATC at Amritsar, howsoever accurate, throws up several other operational questions. Once the country recovers from the blow - hopefully without any further damage beyond the death of Rupen Katyal - it would be time to seek answers and apportion responsibility.
Those who are answerable
have this chronic habit of passing the buck when
something goes wrong. The expected has already started
happening. The IAS lobby is hard at work to prove that
its hands are clean. Politicians and intelligence
officials are also indulging in a similar exercise. That
presents the government as a whole in poor light.
Ideally, one should prevent mistakes from occurring. But
if these do take place, it is imperative to learn
adequate lessons from them and apply correctives. So far,
there is no sign of the desirable happening. The yawning
gaps in security at Kathmandu airport were known even to
ordinary passengers. How is it that the intelligence
agencies were not bothered about them? What was done to
ensure the safety of Indian planes and passengers? Most
airlines carry air marshals on their flights. The Indian
Airlines apparently never thought this necessary despite
being aware of the fact that the ISI had infiltrated
Nepal alarmingly. Nor is the practice of making
passengers identify their luggage on the tarmac in vogue.
The decision to stop all flights to Kathmandu was the
typical over-reaction. There is need to make those mighty
heads, which looked the other way and landed the country
in such a tragic situation, roll. The worst consequence
of the unfortunate incident is that it has exposed the
government to the accusation that its left hand really
does not know what the right one is doing.
INDIA AND THE TALIBAN
leadership does not
Afghanistan Foreign Minister
gratified to report that
External Affairs Minister
THE statements above, if taken on their face value, would indicate that the hijack crisis has brought the Taliban regime in Kabul close to India. This is a significant development in view of the fact that New Delhi has so far not recognised the Taliban regime. It has viewed the Taliban with suspicion and taken it to be an extended arm of the ISI and supporter of its terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country.
Have the Taliban undergone a change of heart vis-a-vis this country? Are they willing to change their image as an Islamic militant organisation? How close are their existing links with the ISI? These questions require a close look in the light of the hijacking of the IA plane and certain statements by the Taliban. Having gone through a bloody civil strife in Afghanistan, the Taliban are well-entrenched right now. Of late, they have been desperately looking for recognition by other nations but they have not been successful in getting a breakthrough.
Even the USA, which once propped up the Taliban indirectly through Pakistan, is sceptical of this outfit. It has been seeking the extradition of the dreaded Saudi militant guru, Osama bin Laden, who has been a key figure behind the Talibans Islamic fundamentalism. Ironically, Washington played a major role in creating the mujahideen since they were used by the Americans for their war against the Russians in Afghanistan.
In fact, the USA poured unlimited resources into Pakistan and trained and equipped tens of thousands of the so-called mujahideen to pursue its strategic interests in the region. Ironically, Washington today finds itself helpless in dealing with Islamic fundamentalism. It is unable to contain Osama bin Laden who has been under the protection of the Taliban. The USA, therefore, may be frowning upon the policies of the Taliban but the latter continue to defy it. Still, India has of late gone along with the USA and shared Washingtons concern over the threat posed by Osama bin Ladens Islamic fundamentalists.
There is no doubt that the ISI operation in Afghanistan has been a trend-setter. Pakistan has been moving in a planned manner as Yossef Bodansky, Director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, puts it.
Pakistans ambitions have matured and expanded well beyond its national borders. Pakistan today appears to have a grand design which goes much beyond Kashmir and which seeks to establish a position of overwhelming influence, if not hegemony, in the trans-Asian region. Pakistan wants to be the linchpin in the strategic chain which includes Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Middle East and China. In its efforts to establish control over the strategic axes that run through this region, Pakistan desperately needs to absorb Kashmir and thus consolidate its borders with China. Pakistans arming and funding of the Taliban to control southern Afghanistan and the trade route to Central Asia is part of this design. So is its attempt to destabilise the government of Tajikistan.
The Pakistani strategic calculation is that if Pakistan can become the dominant or hegemonic power over the western gateways to China, Islamabad will be in a position to exert influence over the entire trans-Asian axis. Such a position, reinforcing Pakistans already unique position as the linchpin between the PRC and the Teheran-led Islamic bloc, will enable Pakistan to enjoy economic and political benefits far beyond what it is possible given the countrys economic, scientific, technological and population levels.
Sophisticated as the Pakistani strategic grand design may be, it nevertheless confronts a very grim reality: the tracks of road which Islamabad is determined to control or at the very least secure hegemony over, happen to be on the sovereign territory of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and India. However, this reality does not seem to deter or restrain Islamabad. Therefore, in pursuit of these objectives, Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, has recently launched a relentless drive to ensure that local Islamist irregular forces (most of whom are already Pakistans proteges sponsored by the ISI) ultimately control all key roads and axes in recognition of Islamabads hegemony over the western gateways of China. (Sapra India monthly bulletin, October, 1995).
The mandarins in South Block should have a close look at some of the facts highlighted by this US expert in the context of the latest developments at Kandahar and reconsider Indias foreign policy options.
Indian diplomacy cannot view the world with its old angularities. It has to adjust and readjust itself to new situations and demands imposed on it by the changing regional and global realities.
First, New Delhi must be both realistic and responsive to emerging situations. Take the case of the Taliban. It is only after the shocking hijack incident that New Delhi opened the channels of communication with the Taliban regime. Why should it have been so?
India has had strategic interests in the region, including Afghanistan. But once the former Soviet Union withdrew from Kabul, New Delhi too virtually washed its hands off the area and gave Pakistan a free hand to operate there.
This should have never been allowed. During the bloody tribal war we did not provide enough support to the group that was well disposed towards us. This shows our half-hearted approach in the pursuit of foreign policy goals.
The second point which requires a fresh look is Indias response to the problem of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country. The question is: have we evolved the right strategy to Pakistans offensive under the cover of the so-called mujahideen and Islamic militant groups? We have to constantly keep in mind that Islamabad is not going to give up its nefarious designs on Kashmir. It will continue with its dubious game to harass and provoke India and spread its network as per the assessment of American expert Yossef Bodansky.
Third, it will be worthwhile for New Delhi to build upon the gestures of goodwill shown by the Taliban leadership in the hijack crisis and see how far it can go in building bridges of understanding with the Kabul regime. There is no need to be sentimental about such things. Our foreign policy has to be dictated by our national and strategic interests. It will be in our interest to wean away the Taliban from Pakistans ISI and see whether we can exert a sobering effect on their policies and postures.
This is worth exploring, though one cannot be sure if the present mood of the Taliban leadership will continue. A lot depends on how South Block plays its card. It is also necessary that our policy-makers evolve a new region-centric, rather than western-oriented, perspective.
The fourth point which requires special attention is a further consolidation of Indo-American cooperation. It will be in Indias interest to help the USA reassess its approach to the region. The nature and dimension of Indo-American cooperation in this regard should be the theme of a serious dialogue between the two countries. In responding to American apprehension, our policy-makers would do well to avoid the old cold- war type thinking and evolve new parameters in Indo-American political, diplomatic, economic and military cooperation.
The fifth vital area which concerns both the USA and India is terrorism. Why shouldnt New Delhi internationalise the problem of terrorism? We can certainly put Pakistan in the dock provided we know how to go about this task. And if there is some change in the Talibans thinking on hijacking, terrorism and related issues, then they deserve our attention. Surely, we must move cautiously but with an open mind.
LIKE any other ruling elite, the Clinton Administration is not a monolith. It consists of various agencies and departments, headed by senior officials who believe they have the final word on what US policy should be towards nations and situations. With that said, one would normally expect that US foreign policy would be decided by President Clinton, chief executive and commander-in-chief of all its armed forces. Unfortunately, that is not the way it appears to the world at large.
Take US policy towards India, for instance. For decades, America treated India with benign neglect, even as it concentrated its attention on Pakistan, a willing bulwark against Soviet expansionism, and on China, which was seen as the ultimate market salvation for Americas ever-expanding business interests. But once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, the significance of Islamabad as an arms conduit for the Afghan mujahideen evaporated. Besides, Pakistan was careening towards total economic chaos, and its polity was becoming increasingly tainted with the virus of Islamic fundamentalism.
Beijing, meanwhile, proved to have a mind of its own, ready to call the US bluff of threatened sanctions. Despite promises to the contrary, it went about merrily bestowing nuclear and missile largesse on such countries as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. To make matters worse, China was believed to have successfully mounted an aggressive and extensive intelligence effort to acquire the latest in US nuclear and missile technology.
It was at such a juncture that the USA decided, despite the Pokhran blasts in 1998, to engage with India and cultivate it as a close ally and desirable destination for American business and investment. The job was assigned to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, urbane, polished, and possessing a streak of empathy that would be invaluable in repairing ruptured relations. His interlocutor on the India side was External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, equally urbane, polished and knowledgeable. In fact, it was a made-for-each-other pair.
The 10 rounds of talks the two had over the months did seem to have resulted in narrowing differences and increasing accommodation, with each side doing its best to take care of the others aspirations and apprehensions. Thus it was that by the time the last Indo-US meeting in London in mid-November was over, the USA had resigned itself to Indias non-negotiable need for a minimum nuclear deterrent; India, despite Arundhati Ghoshs famous declaration at Geneva that India would not sign the CTBT not now, not ever, had come around to agreeing to put together a national consensus to sign the treaty which, in turn, was one of the Americas inflexible benchmarks.
It was at such a stage that there ensued a storm in the South Asia teacup. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Karl Inderfurth, a gem of a man and a gentleman diplomat, informally met South Asia correspondents in the holiday spirit, to share some bubbly, to wish all the countries in the region well, and to assure everyone that the Y2K bug was unlikely to cause any major disruptions. At the end of that pleasant interlude, Inderfurth expressed his willingness to take questions.
One of the first questions was: Can India have a minimum nuclear deterrent even after it signs the CTBT? An emphatic yes, Inderfurth responded, after he was prodded to provide a firm and definite answer. He explained, at the same time, that the two issues were not linked. The aim of the CTBT was to prevent further nuclear testing; it had nothing whatever to do with the possession of nuclear weapons.
Inderfurth also agreed that the size and shape of each countrys military deterrent programme would depend on its threat perceptions, which could change over time. He pointed out that Americas threat perceptions had changed after the end of the Cold War, enabling it to reduce the number of its warheads. He hoped India too would experience such a positive change.
Despite that clear enunciation, some Indian newspapers went to town the next day with the sensational news that the USA had admitted, for the first time, that India could have a minimum nuclear deterrent at a level it chooses. From that, the reports even extrapolated that as a pointer to US willingness to accept India as a nuclear weapons power, eligible for membership in the nuclear club. It was a prime example of journalistic overkill.
Meanwhile, unlike the positive and constructive attitude displayed by Talbott and Inderfurth, there are other official voices in the Clinton Administration that apparently seek to nullify all that the series of Indo-US talks have brought about. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, her spokesman James Rubin, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, Arms Control and International Security Adviser John Holum, and Undersecretary of Commerce William Reinsch have at various times flatly dismissed reports of US accommodation of Indias views, say, with regard to a minimum nuclear deterrent. Their utterances have often smacked of superpower arrogance.
In any case, the USA never had any doubt that India had a nuclear capability that it could use as a deterrent against potential adversaries. The only bone of contention was the US demand that India define the outlines of its intended deterrent. But Washington has now accepted Indias contention that the shape and size of its deterrent are flexible concepts, likely to change with changing threat perceptions. But all of this precedes the London meeting and has nothing to do with signing the CTBT.
It is equally certain that no matter what develops in the next round of talks, again in London, on January 16 and 17, the USA will never be comfortable with India having a nuclear deterrent at the level it chooses. Nor will it be willing to accept India as a member of the nuclear club because Washington believes that such anointing will be tantamount to diluting the privileged stature of the current members.
Moreover, American minds may tilt towards India for its massive consumer market, but American hearts always lean towards Pakistan, regardless of what and how America talks of democracy or terrorism.
Apart from all that, if America recognises India as a nuclear weapons state, no matter how tentatively, and appreciates its need for a nuclear deterrent at the level it chooses, where is the need for any further round of talks? There would then be no outstanding issues between the two. India can go ahead and sign the CTBT and the USA can lift all the sanctions and also allow the transfer of dual-use technology, and a good time can be had by all!
How the West saw India
through the ages
IT was perhaps Herodotus (Father of History who in the 4th century BC) first referred to India. But that was in Homers mythical language. With Darius, the Persian conqueror, we are on firmer ground. He thought highly of Indian soldiers and recruited them. And there is only one true explanation for the hasty retreat of Alexander from India: because he feared the worst. But he took with him some ascetic philosophers of India, for he had high regard for them. The Greeks called them Gymnosophists. That was perhaps the first image of India as the land of the Gymnosophists.
Plotinus, the founder of neo-Platonism, was so excited about Gymnosophists that he joined a military expedition to Persia in the hope of reaching India. There is close resemblance between neo-Platonism and Vedanta and Yoga.
Europe converted the Alexander saga into a fabulous Christian romance, which persisted well into the 16th century. Alexander and India became inseparable in its imagination.
Megasthenes, who spent five years in India (317-312 BC) as envoy of Seleukas Nikator (Greek king of Syria) at the court of Chandragupta Maurya, has left a more realistic picture of the Indians as a happy people, of simple manner, frugal, seldom going to law, having no fear of thieves and holding truth and virtue in high esteem.
We are back to myths with Virgil, the great Latin poet (70-19 BC). He referred to Indians as the Ethiopians of the East. Strabo corrected him. By the second century BC, Buddhists were to be found in Antioch and Alexandria. They were sent by Ashoka to preach Buddhism. Some of them, who settled down in Palestine, were called Essenes. They influenced Jesus but that is another story.
India owes its image as a land of wisdom and philosophies to these Buddhist missionaries.
Pliny, the elder, author of Natural History, found the stories about India rather incredible. St Augustine, however, believed them. He thought that India was a Christian country of fabulous races.
Appolonius of Tyna (1st century AD), a neo-Pythagorean, travelled all over India and found much in common between the wise Brahmin and the Greek philosophers. The wide Brahmin became the exemplar for European scholars and philosophers.
From antiquity to the Renaissance, the ordinary European drew his picture of India mainly from the stories attached to the fictional biographies of Alexander the Great, writes Donald Lach, in his monumental study of Asia.
Alexander had already become a demi-god in European thinking and India was a country of great surprises. With the advent of Christianity, Alexander became the first Knight of the Cross and India became a land of opulence, golden place and beautiful Amazons, clad in silver armour. But the Gymnosophists, we are told, lived in simplicity and isolation. Their life inspired the utopia of Sir Thomas More.
With the advent of the crusades, Alexander became the archetypal hero of the crusaders.As Alexanders fame spread, so did that of India.
Asian visitors to India left a more realistic picture. Hieun Tsang (600-650 AD), a Chinese pilgrim, found Indians high-minded, upright and honourable. I have seen (here) races not seen before, heard sacred words not heard before, witnessed spiritual prodigies, exceeding all wonders of nature. A third of the Chinese classics are translations of Sanskrit and Pali works.
Al-Biruni (12th century), one of the greatest scholars of Islam who spent several years in India, marvels at the religious tolerance of the Indians. Of the irrigation works constructed in the south by the Chola king Rajendra I, Al-Biruni writes: Our people are unable to describe them, much less construct anything like them.
By the 16th century, European explorers were in direct contact with Asia. They came in search of its riches and spices. Shakespeare had made twenty-four allusions to India in his works.
On the city of Vijayanagar, the capital of the Vijaya empire, Farishta, a soldier-scholar of Persia, writes: The city is such that eye has not seen or ever heard of any place resembling it upon the whole earth. A Portuguese traveller found it the best provided city in the world. And a British historian tells that the city was splendid with a wealthy and industrious population.
Many in Europe still thought of India as a Christian country. Vasco da Gama and his men saw Devi temples in Kerala as churches dedicated to Mary.
The first impression of India was of wonder and awe. Ralf Fitch, an English merchant, who visited Akbars court writes of Agra as a very great city. Sir Thomas Roe, the British envoy, was awe-struck by the Jehangirs court. Miltons Paradise Lost was influenced by the splendour of Mughal life.
The Portuguese, blinded by the Inquisition, saw in India nothing but a sea of paganism. The British were more pragmatic. Translation of Shakuntala into European languages astonished the European world.
But those who came to conquer India and convert its people to Christianity had other things to say. They had their compulsions. Lord Curzon, who saw the British empire as the greatest instrument for good, had no good word for orientals. Lord Willingdon never met a Hindu, he says, with a single good quality. He thought Muslims were even worse.
There were exceptions. For example, Warren Hastings never thought that the British empire in India would last long. And he was in the habit of quoting the Gita to spite missionaries. But most of his successors saw India as the home of despotism and violence, venality and indolence. They were all fed on the book, History of British India by James Mill, which denigrated this country.
But there were others, greater than the rulers, who spoke highly of India. Sir William Jones, the pioneer of Indology, almost rediscovered India. Europes Indian Renaissance began with the discovery of Sanskrit and the Upanishads. On Sanskrit, Jones wrote: More perfect than Greek, more copius than Latin and more exquisitely refined than either. On Hindus, he says, they were a people with a fertile and inventive genius. Schopenhauer was ecstatic about the Upanishads. He wrote: There is no study...so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. The Germans found in India a kindred spirit.
The German Romantic Movement was largely based on the discovery of India. German philosophy became transcendental. The central doctrine of Kant, one of the great German philosophers, reflects the influence of the Upanishads on him. Kalidasas Meghadoota influenced Schillers Maria Stuart, and Heines Die Lo Tusblume was one of his finest lyrical poems. Goethe, the German poet was ecstatic about Shakuntala. Of the Gita, Wilhelm Humbolt said: The most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song, existing in any known language.
In the meantime, the missionaries were busy saving Indian souls from darkness.
Bacon had an explanation for this. He says: What really animates the imperialist (and the missionary was inspired by the same spirit) is the firm belief, even if mistaken, that the race to which he belongs is the noblest and civilisation to which he belongs is the highest.
The discovery of India went on unabated. Sir John Marshall found in Mohen-Jo-Daro a civilisation far superior to that of Egypt. And he said that India produced cotton textiles 2000 years before anybody else. He described Mauryan architecture, as surpassing the beauty of Athenian buildings.
Sir Thomas Munroe, the British governor of Madras Presidency, had this to say about those who judged India wrongly Foreign conquerors have treated Indians with violence and often with great cruelty, but none has treated them with contempt and so much scorn as we. That scorn has continued to our times.
But no matter, India will triumph and very soon, for the signs are all there to see. Throughout the ages, India has sought an inner perfection, not so much the outward adornments, and it is for this goal for inner perfection that the Western world is turning to today.
As Max Mueller says:
As we measure the Himalayas by the height of Mt
Everest, we must take the true measure of India from the
poets of the Vedas, the sages of the Unanishads and the
Sankhya philosophers and the authors of the oldest law
THE West has taught the East many things but it has also prompted the East to forget some of its own things. The fine arts, specially music, are some of them.
A moral setback threatens the existence of Indian music. Theatres, in the European sense, have sprung up where nothing but a mongreal music is to be heard. The deep and tender raginis are neglected and an expressionless, discordant music, sometimes an adaptation of some foreign melody, is encouraged.
It is often found that at the time of aarati or vespers in Hindu temples and other religious ceremonies and marriages. European brass bands play utterly discordant music.
Thus our festive occasions lose half of their charm on account of being associated with foreign elements.
People may think that
this has no particular effect. It is this fallacious
belief that has proved so detrimental to the advancement
of music culture in India. The feeling of nationalism may
not be paramount in India today, but it may be so
| Punjab | Haryana | Himachal Pradesh | Jammu & Kashmir |
| Chandigarh | Business | Sport |
| Mailbag | Spotlight | World | 50 years of Independence | Weather |
| Search | Subscribe | Archive | Suggestion | Home | E-mail |