|Tuesday, January 4, 2000, |
Not by force
Terrorism: dont misjudge Taliban
AFTER eight tension-filled days everybody is happy to play out the old tiresome script. The government is seeing gains in the trade-off of militants for hostages and is simultaneously firing all guns at Pakistan. This is a dicey game since India has to come up with strong evidence of the neighbours involvement in the hijacking. The vague talk of a telephone conversation intercept of a militant group justifying its opposition to the hijacking since Pakistan wanted it, will not do. As analysts have pointed out, there must have been a flood of communication during the hijack trauma and much of it must have been recorded by a variety of intelligence agencies, including Indian ones. True, Pakistan has set up a highly sophisticated telephone network, first to control the war in Afghanistan and then to guide militancy in Kashmir. But India is no amateur. Also, the USA must have listened in to every word, and its statement that the release of the more than 150 passengers is not the end of the matter should help in enlisting its cooperation. National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra was neither forthcoming nor convincing in his television interview on Sunday while totally blaming Pakistan, something which Mr Jaswant Singh first did on Saturday. The clinching proof will come if that country offers asylum to the five hijackers and the three freed militants. Delhi should track them down and if the old overt structure built by RAW is still in place, should activate its operatives to tackle them. It is a cruel thought but the only way to redeem the countrys image which has been dented in the wake of the Kandahar drama. Any success will also silence the opposition parties who are accusing the BJP-led government of compromising national interests.
There are some hard lessons to learn from the hijacking. One, it was wrong to ask a senior Minister to escort the released militants and personally hand them over to the captors. As many have remarked, that duty rightly belonged to a senior police official. That it all happened in the Taliban territory, unrecognised by India, added to the confusion. Two, Kathmandu is a friendly capital and is teeming with terrorists, spies and underworld figures. India must have infiltrated into some of these gangs yet its agents have failed to tip the airlines of the hijack plot. The whole intelligence gathering structure there calls for a shake-out. As a frequent air traveller has pointed out, barring the four airports in North India, frisking and checking of passengers and their baggage is lethargic and loose elsewhere. Touts of all description have free access to even departure lounges. A hijacking was, therefore, waiting to happen. This is linked to the casual attitude of most Indians to their public responsibilities. Everyone believes that things will go on smoothly and when they dont there is much breast-beating for a few days and soon it is back to normal.The gruesome tragedy of Jyotsna Jethani as indeed the series of rail accidents during the past two years are a testimony to the inbuilt carelessness and apathy. The establishment of the NSC has not improved the ground situation one bit. That is an area which calls for a close look. Finally, one of the gains of the trauma is likely to be the rebirth of TADA in a more stringent form. Actually, it is not the absence of law that has encouraged terrorism, local or external. It is lack of commitment to professional duties and a keenness to prevent mishaps of any kind.
Rail safety plan
LACK of funds should not be offered as an excuse for ignoring the recommendations of the Railway Safety Review Committee. The committee is said to have prepared a comprehensive report following an alarming increase in the occurrence of serious train accidents over the past few years. The recommendations are currently being examined by yet another set of experts in the Railway Ministry. Interestingly, the tendency of the bureaucracy to obfuscate rather than lend clarity to issues under discussion has been identified as one of the key factors for the poor safety record of the worlds largest public transport monopoly. The committee deplored the fact that in the past five decades all the key departments in the vast network have been run unprofessionally like any other government department, resulting in the erosion of work culture and the birth of the tendency to avoid responsibility. The committee rightly emphasised that it is not only unrealistic but also dangerous to treat the railways and its problems on a par with other government departments which has unfortunately been the case in the past five decades. Neither the political leadership nor the bureaucracy is likely to take kindly to the observation that the prime focus of the railways should be on the consolidation and upgradation of the essential infrastructure and assets rather than on populist but financially ruinous projects. It is, indeed, true that with the exception of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who promptly resigned after a major rail accident, most Railway Ministers, including Kamalapati Tripathi, Lalit Narayan Misra, Mr Abdul Ghani Khan Choudhary, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Nitish Kumar had usually abused their position for promoting populist projects at the expense of the general well-being and safety of the travellers.
It is too early to say whether Ms Mamata Banerjee as the new and seemingly more dynamic Railway Minister will resist the temptation to follow in the populist footsteps of her unworthy predecessors and deliver on the promise of making the Indian Railways the most efficient and safe mode of public transport in the country, if not the world. The panel on railway safety has worked out the cost of upgrading key components of the network for making rail travel safe and comfortable. The exorbitant amount mentioned in the report should not be held as a factor for ignoring the recommendations of the panel. The cash-strapped ministry would certainly not be able to raise even a fraction of the sum of Rs 21,000 crore needed for upgrading the infrastructure and introducing the latest technology for improving the safety record of the Indian Railways. Nevertheless, all good work, like charity, should begin at home. Ms Banerjee has announced a series of measures for minimising wasteful expenditure in her ministry. She should also try to devise workable plans for stamping out corruption which results in a substantial loss of revenue to the network. Of course, the bulk of the money needed for upgrading and replacing obsolete equipment would have to be raised through loans and grants from national and global financial institutions. However, without the necessary political will for removing bureaucratic hurdles the report of the Railway Safety Review Committee too may end up gathering dust on some obscure shelf in Rail Bhavan.
Bug did not bite
THE world has heaved a collective sigh of relief to find that the dreaded Y2K bug did not disrupt the planet earth as was anticipated. In fact, New Year came so unobtrusively that it was some kind of an anticlimax. But make no mistake! The apprehension was no exaggeration or miscalculation by doomsters. The threat was real and enormous. It is just that nearly every country got down to the task of meeting it in right earnest. The success came at a considerable price. After all, billions of dollars and thousands of manhours had to be expended to set the computer problem right. That is a lot of money to take care of a small error due to which the years were identified as two digit numbers instead of four digit ones. Why, even India passed the test with flying colours! Things moved so smoothly for it that it did not have even to put in operation the contingency plan that had been drawn up. Naturally, members of the Indian scientific community in general and that of the task force to combat the Y2K problem are elated. They have succeeded in giving a befitting reply to the doubting Thomases who had been turning a deaf ear to the Indian pleas that every sector of the country was fully Y2K compliant. It was quite galling to see one foreign airline after the other steering clear of Indian airports on the crucial night of December 31. It was not a case of being better safe than sorry. It was also a case of lack of faith in most things non-white. Perhaps the Indian scientific community would be treated with greater respect in future.
So, how did India manage to succeed? Dedication, determination, timely action and teamwork played a major role. That reconfirms the fact that once India sets its sight on a target and pursues it relentlessly, it can achieve it, come what may. However, it is a pity that this single-minded determination is shown in the rarest of rare instances. In ordinary, day-to-day events, the chalta hai attitude prevails. There was a lot of hue and cry over a remark by a member of the British royal family on the shoddiness of the work done by Indian technicians. Indeed, he should not have made those remarks but he was not much off the mark. Safety is not one of the prime concerns of many in the country. That is why many of the Indian goods do not pass stringent international quality tests. Whenever any item is rejected, we raise a hue and cry about a conspiracy to run us down but the criticism does not hit us hard enough to spur us to become more conscious of the shortcomings. It is ironical that the country, which could tackle the Y2K bug so smoothly, was not able to ensure that the escalator at the airport of the national capital would run smoothly!
MR Atal Behari Vajpayee should not be surprised if his government comes under increasing pressure in the new millennium to beef up military capability and adopt tough measures on a range of issues connected with security and foreign policy. For if he cannot be seen as soft towards terrorists, as an official spokesman put it in the wake of the Christmas eve hijack, even less can he afford to preside over a soft state in which saboteurs, agent provocateurs and terrorists are free to work their mischief.
Anguished relatives of the hostages who may have hankered for a dramatic Entebbe-style rescue naturally could not grasp the complexities of the situation involving Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it is true that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has been caught napping twice in less than six months. As everyone knows, it was several months before military intelligence tumbled to the Kargil incursion. The intruders were evicted eventually but only after an intense, expensive and protracted military campaign and President Bill Clintons famous facilitation. This time Indians must be told why commandos could not even try to overpower the hijackers in Amritsar before the fateful flight to Kandahar by way of Lahore and Abu Dhabi.
Many fear that such outrages have become possible largely because a genial Prime Minister subscribes to the liberal secular values and notions of a benign and enlightened state that are Jawaharlal Nehrus legacy. When Marshal Bulganin proclaimed at a Moscow banquet that the Soviet Union would stand by India if it were attacked, Nehru replied that India had no enemies. Four wars, three with Pakistan and one with China, belied a touching faith that is especially irrelevant now because the centre of Islamic fundamentalist activity has shifted from West Asia to the Pakistan-Afghanistan region which is also the base of the renegade Saudi Arabian tycoon, Osama bin Laden, and was the target of American missile attacks. While the United Arab Emirates refusal to allow Indias Ambassador access to the hijackers confirmed that the Islamic ummah stands united when it comes to largely Hindu India, Pakistans more predictable dismissal of the crisis as stage-managed confirmed suspicions of where the plot originated.
Only a strong government that is not afraid of taking hard decisions can save India. Nuclear power is no defence against subversion and sabotage. A review of priorities is necessary. Mr Jaswant Singhs uncharacteristically blunt statement that the hijacking was another one of repeated attempts by the Pakistan government and terrorist organisations there to secure Maulana Masood Azhars release, and the BJP resolution invoking the spirit of Kargil to denounce Pakistans continuing proxy war against India indicated the emerging mood. Obviously, the millenniums first casualty would be whatever survives of the confidence-building process that Mr Vajpayee and Mr Nawaz Sharif started. Kargil dealt it a severe blow; the coup staged by Gen Pervez Musharraf, with his close links with terrorist organisations, dealt another.
The recent intelligence-sharing agreement with Bangladesh should be strengthened and extended to other neighbours. Nepal is one of the weakest links on Indias perimeter. Several recent acts of sabotage were masterminded from there. The landlocked Himalayan kingdom stands in relation to India rather like Mexico to the USA. But with one difference. In spite of being the worlds only Hindu country and heavily dependent on Indian aid, Nepal tries to play off China and Pakistan against India. If the USA can check illegal immigration by insisting that Third World visitors to Mexico should have valid American visas, India would be justified in ensuring that Nepal takes far more effective measures to weed out Indias enemies. King Birendras rhetoric about Nepal being a Central, not South, Asian country and a zone of peace should not deter strategists who have always held that Indias defence begins on the kingdoms northern border. The underlying rationale is the only way of guaranteeing that the porous southern border is not violated.
In spite of his initial determination not to either recognise the Taliban or negotiate with the hijackers, Mr Vajpayee did enter into a dialogue with both parties. That commendable realpolitik might lead to a reappraisal of New Delhis attitude to Kabul. Nothing is served by yearning for the cordial ties that existed with previous Afghan regimes; nothing is served either by refusing to acknowledge a group that, for all its faults, is in effective control. If the USA could do nothing about the Communist takeover of China, neither can India about Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Some of the Taliban actions are intriguing. First, the group sounded hostile to India, blaming it for not negotiating with the hijackers while itself refusing to intercede with them for the safety of the hostages. Then it insisted on United Nations intervention. Later, the refusal to grant asylum to the hijackers, the ultimatum it served on them and some demonstration of concern for the hostages, as well as tacit overtures to India, suggested that instead of trying to drag the Kashmir dispute back to the worlds agenda, the Taliban was thinking of its own long-term future.
Perhaps there are several factions, with some colluding with Pakistan and others anxious to earn the worlds goodwill so that the Kabul regime does not languish forever in the international doghouse. It should not be beyond Indian diplomacy to make the most of such nuances. What India must consider is whether the Talibans later moves suggested that it would be receptive to a constructive relationship, and whether such a connection might be in Indias long-term interest as well as promoting regional stability.
Other shifts include closer technical and operational cooperation with Israel which has shown that it can stand up to Islamic militancy and a serious consideration of all the strands of the India-US and US-Pakistan relationships. It would be in order to seek an explanation from the USA which turns a blind eye to Pakistani support for terrorist groups in spite of its own opposition to global terrorism and condemnation of Masoods Harkat-ul-Ansar as a foreign terrorist organisation. At the same time, if any power can bring political and economic pressure to bear on Pakistan, it is the USA. With the end of the Cold War having eroded Pakistans strategic importance to a great extent, the Americans worry that without support, the country might slide into Islamic fundamentalism which is the only alternative to Mr Sharifs failed democracy and General Musharrafs military rule. What Washington refuses to admit is that the most effective bulwark against fundamentalism lies in democratic stability founded on political and economic justice, not in narrow-based dictatorships.
The USA has to be reminded again of the lessons of South Korea, South Vietnam, Iran and the Philippines. India can help in that relearning process by providing an alternative destination for diplomatic and cultural interaction as well as trade and investment. Of course, India will not tolerate outright mediation. But the logical extension of Mr Clintons facilitation to the entire gamut of subcontinental relations would not only be in the American interest but might also help to end an uneasy stalemate in which India is forever hostage to Pakistani machinations.
Australias strategic rethink
HAS Australia finally found its role in its Asian neighbourhood? The question arises because Canberra is on a high after its prominent role in East Timor. Its self-congratulation tends to project an image of a regional heavy, that brought about East Timors liberation from Indonesia virtually on its own.
It is untrue, of course, Jakarta did a pretty good job of losing the referendum in East Timor all by itself. All through its occupation of the former Portuguese colony since the mid-seventies, Indonesia alienated East Timorese people by its brutal rule. No wonder, when given an opportunity for a referendum on autonomy or independence, the people of the territory overwhelmingly chose the latter.
Australias role, an important one, was to galvanise the United Nations into mandating a peace-enforcement force under its leadership. Jakarta went berserk after losing the referendum. It encouraged and connived with local pro-autonomy militias to kill, maim and displace many East Timorese for their act of treachery. It virtually destroyed East Timors infrastructure. In the midst of such brutality, Australia emerged as a knight in shining armour, keen to lead a peacekeeping role in East Timor. For this, Canberra won the praise and support of the USA and some European countries.
This has created a new mythology in Canberra. To be more precise, it is the refurbishment of an old mythology. According to the old mythology, Australias geographical location in an inhospitable Asian neighbourhood (with no natural friends except New Zealand) required it to depend on a powerful friend(s) from outside the region for its ultimate security. First, it was Britain, the mother country. But, starting in World War II, USA came to increasing supplant Britain.
However, after the promulgation of the Nixon doctrine in the late sixties encouraging self-sufficiency in defence on its regional allies (with the USA as a lender of last resort), Australia was forced into re-thinking its regional strategy. Over the following decades, Australia sought integration with its Asian neighbourhood. Its military alliance with the USA remained central, but the emphasis now was (according to the prevailing cliche) on not to seek security from Asia but within Asia.
Australia built up a web of political, economic and military links with the region to shape and manage its security environment. The most important was its 1995 defence pact with Indonesia, Australias large northern neighbour (population: 200 million people) and a potential security threat. This remained, by and large, the framework of Australias regional policy until the events in East Timor. Which is now causing a new rethink on Australias regional strategy.
Australias high-profiled role in East Timor has given Canberra a new confidence to take on a leadership role in the region, as an adjunct to the ultimate US security shield. For instance, Australia can play a useful role as Americas regional deputy sheriff. After all, as Prime Minister John Howard has put it, it is not reasonable, appropriate or suitable or the United States to lead every peacekeeping operation everywhere. As long as the USA remains the lender of last resort, Australia might as well be its regional deputy. This is now the Howard Doctrine. In its new role, Australia will not have to suck up to its Asian neighbours like, for instance, Indonesia.
And it will re-invigorate Australias US alliance. Australia will be seen in Washington as having defined a new relevance for itself in the US scheme of things. Washington needs a set of regional allies in the world prepared to enforce its writ without direct US involvement. Australias leading role in East Timor has been lauded by the US establishment, including President Clinton.
Canberras new doctrine is also in conformity with Mr Howards desire that Australia should not and need not choose between its geography and history (European culture and heritage). And that Canberra should deal with Asia on its own terms. Australia also feels morally elevated following its involvement in East Timor a human rights issue. It is not to suggest that Australias involvement in East Timor was an altruistic exercise. It was a combination of political (domestic) and strategic considerations. But it is still a good feeling of moral liberation after 25 years of acquiescence in Indonesias occupation and terror in East Timor.
An important factor in Australias new confidence is its relative economic success in the midst of Asian economic crisis. According to Downer, Australias Foreign Minister, Asias financial crisis was a defining moment for our nation, showing that economically Australia is a very significant country indeed. And he got carried away at the National Press Club,claiming that Australia was well placed to lead the world into the new age of information economy. As for defence, it is right up to date with the latest technological advantages on the battlefield.
Downers conclusion: Australias efforts over the two years in relation to the economic crisis and East Timor have won us respect recognition and praise in the region and around the world...Australia was tested in a manner which, perhaps, we have not seen since the end (of World War II). His boss, Prime Minister John Howard, was no less effusive: I dont think this country has stood taller and stronger in the chanceries of the world than it does at the present time.
Canberra is increasingly sounding and behaving like the regional superman. The countrys Prime Minister and Defence Minister have separately visited Australian troops in East Timor, evoking the halo of a conquering army. Its defence chief is advocating the creation of an Australian rapid deployment peacekeeping force (raising eyebrows about its real purpose) for future regional crisis.
Could it be that Australia was suffering from some delusion of greatness? For a small country of 19 million people, with a regular armed force of about 50,000 troops (the army, the navy and the air force combined), its claims of regional primacy would appear far-fetched. It is a pendulum swing from ingratiating with Asia to assertion of regional primacy. As one perceptive Australia analyst has said, The tragedy of Australia policy today is that our real achievements are being undermined by delusion and hubris.
Not by force
A YOUNG friend of mine is currently sitting his end year examinations in Chandigarh. Like, I imagine, many of his contemporaries, he finds little to inspire him in the choice never mind the teaching of the poems he is required to study for his English paper. Even the glories of Shakespeare, Milton and Keats, present in dull isolation, sit like lead on the printed page. They are 10 hurdles placed at 10- yard intervals in a hundred and ten yard race. Small wonder that when students reach the metaphorical winning line they retain no interest in the hurdles that obstructed their path.
It is not enough to present a 17- year old with a classic like Wordsworths Daffodils and expect some nebulous innate sense of poetic feeling to do the rest. One might as well present him with ivory billiard ball and expect him to construct from it an elephant.
I appreciate, of course, that time is limited, that English literature is only one of many subjects, and that a basic knowledge of a few major poets forms part of a well rounded education, along with knowing chemical combination of sulphuric acid and the dates of the major Mugal Emperors. But literature is so much more than when Shah Jehan was born, or H2SO4. It has the potential to touch the soul as well as the mind. It is something that transcends the boundaries of the classroom. The American novelist John Dos Passos was amazed and delighted to discover that the cigarrollers of thirties Key West enjoyed having Tolstoy read to them while they worked. Shakespeares plays were initially performed to the noisy undereducated Elizabethan playgoers who cared little for literature per se but had no problem with soliloquies of Hamlet and Macbeth. We might be well advised to wonder what progress we have made in 400 years if the verse of Shakespeare has been turned from something natural and glorious into an academic chore.
And the answer to this? Well, please remember that I speak as a writer, not an educationalist; as a lover of English literature, not its teacher. I would like to see poetry shared, rather than taught. I would like to see the syllabus geared up to the student rather than the academician. If a young man leaves school without having read Shelley and Keats, so what? Better far that he should leave school with his sense of wonder at the power of the written word intact, the better to appreciate Shelley and Keats when and if he encounters them later in life. And please remember that it was for the people that Shelley wrote, not the Oxford dons.
Let the syllabus be more flexible, to take account of the students themselves. That young man over there, the tall, fit young man who plays cricket and football, who thinks poetry is sissy stuff and who cant wait to leave school and join the army dont waste his time and yours with Daffodils. Try him out with the speeches and awkward soldierly love-making of Henry V. The shy girl in the corner will get far more from Emily Dickinson than she ever will from Byron and Tennyson.
To replace the formal Eng. Lit. exam with an essay entitled My favourite poem and how it relates to me would still give the academically orientated student a chance to prove his worth for an English course at university, but would give all students an opportunity, a reason, to seek out and appreciate the poetry that means something to them.
Terrorism: dont misjudge Taliban
A NOTABLE aspect of the hijacking episode has been the confusion it had created about the involvement and objectives of its various players. According to the latest assessment, the entire operation has been the handiwork of the Pakistani military regime with a view to hiding its own failures on various fronts. The identity of the main instigators have been established and the links between the ISI-trained saboteurs and their close connection with the smugglers and prominent Indian underworld dons have been uncovered.
While there cannot be any doubt about Pakistans hostile designs, it would be imprudent to overlook the extremely complex relationship between the various militant groups operating in the region. Barring Lashkar-e-Toiba, all others including Hizbul Mujahideen, Al Badar and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen have close links with both Pakistani ISI and different factions of the Taliban. Often, different factions of the same outfit seek patronage from rival sources. There is also circumstantial evidence to infer the larger pan-Islamic concerns of the hijackers. In the course of the hard negotiations with the Indian team, they had talked eloquently about the injustice done to Islam and the refusal of the world community to recognise it as a powerful entity.
Among the hostages held by the hijackers were a dozen Europeans and Americans and a Japanese and an Australian. The hijackers did not show any special love for them. This indicated that their intentions were not exactly India-specific. The TV channel experts had put forth various theories at various stages to establish the role of Islamabad or the Taliban or both in masterminding or encouraging the hijack. None of these is to even obliquely discount the direct Pakistani complicity in the hijack. It is only to highlight the fact that left to them so many militant outfits in the region and their fundamentalist masters might have been ever ready to undertake similar tasks.
For obvious reasons, India had special reasons not to displease the Taliban Government in Kabul. At that point of time, all its hopes of resolving the crisis entirely depended on Talibans goodwill. For, despite the disclaimers, Kabul has the necessary physical and moral control over the hijackers. Under the situation, India had no other option but to appeal to the good sense of Kabul for obtaining the release of the hostages. Moreover, there have been hopeful suggestions from various sources that the Taliban Government would like to use the crisis to overcome its isolation, even if marginally.
So far only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recognised the Kabul regime. Not even the Organisation of the Islamic Countries. There have been vague indications that at one stage, Kabul had made the absence of diplomatic recognition as a snag in the way of its initiative to resolve the crisis and made it as a condition for constructive cooperation. On its part, the Indian side tactfully underplayed the issue and gave vague hopes for the future without any clear commitment.
Incidentally, the Talibans role in the hijack episode has traces of the BJPs own cultivated ambiguity about itself. For tactical reasons, the Taliban Government took the position that they were different from the Taliban as a fanatic movement as the BJP claims to be different from its Hindutva parivar. The Taliban authorities also insisted that as government, hijacking or export of Islamic terrorism was not on their agenda. Like the BJP, they only could try to persuade the militant wings of their own broader parivar.
However, the temporary tactical compulsions should not blind us to the real threat being posed by the Taliban as a regional fundamentalist force. Even in the present hijacking episode, the main actor Maulana Azhar Masood is a close friend of the other pan-Islamic terrorist figure Osama bin Laden. An Islamic theologian with a sharp political antena, he is often described as the ideologue of those entertain visions of a pan-Islamic glory. His release may not be necessarily a Kashmir-specific demand. Frequently travelling to muster Islamic support and raise funds for the Islamisation project, even as a maulana he enjoyed a very high reputation among the devouts.
Sadly, India has always been underplaying the potential threat from the Taliban which has already begun effectively challenging its own original creator, the USA. The Taliban has been a joint project of the USA and Pakistan to counter the erstwhile Mujib regime in Afghanistan. His relatively stable government in that strife-torn country was taken as a symbol of Soviet power in the region. Using religion as a weapon, the USA recruited the influential mullas in Pakistan and far-flung Afghan regions to raise a formidable group of fanatics to challenge the Soviets. The talibs (students) of the innumerable madrasas were easy targets. Those young men had little future hopes in the war-hit backward Afghanistan and hence found a livelihood as indoctrinated mercenaries.
The USA provided military training and equipped them with arms. Preservation of Islamic fundamentalism and defence of Islam became their inspiration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the USA lost interest in the Taliban and other militant outfits. However, by the time the Taliban had already grown into a big force. It had built up huge arms dumps left by the USA. It has a large army of fanatic youths who otherwise had no livelihood. Also, once tasted armed victories these forces could not wind up themselves just because the USA had lost interest in them.
In the changed geopolitics, the bhasmasura has turned against its own creator. Even the UN sanctions or aggressive US campaigns have not blunted the Talibans fighting capacity. Control of the vital parts of Afghanistan and continuing support from Pakistan and financial backing of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc have transformed it into an extremely powerful force in the region. The increased might and Islamic expansionism have made it to turn other countries in the region. The induction of outside militants in Kashmir terrorism has been part of this Islamic expansionist design.
They have made effective inroads into several other countries, including Muslim-dominated areas of Xinxiang province of China. Inspired by Taliban-backed elements, there have been several cases of violence. Many of the central Asian states coming under the fundamentalist threat. In Russia, what had happened in Chechnya is part of a fundamentalist plan to create an Islamic republic covering the entire region between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea.
In India, there has been an ostrich-like approach to this aggressive expansionism that has been in evidence in the past couple of years. This was most marked with regard to the militant challenge in Chechnya and a series of bomb blasts in Moscow. In both cases, we have been facing strikingly similar problems. We have been victims of bomb blasts by those trained and financed from across the border. Still our response to the incidents in Russia has been rather formal. In the case of Chechnya, while our government played down the significance of the bitter war on the Islamic militants propped up by the foreign elements, mainly the Taliban, our media faithfully followed the western version of the Russian atrocities without bothering about the real intentions of the Islamisers.
Had the Islamic forces succeeded in Chechnya and elsewhere, they will invariably be further emboldened to intensify actions in Kashmir. This simple fact is not unknown to the BJP rulers. But the governments cool response to the Russian operation is more guided by its anxiety to be on the right side of the USA towards which the BJP regime has been rapidly moving closer. This is in spite of the clash of interests on vital issues. Some in South Block also hope that the diversion of the Islamic might would spare India of being the main target. This is but a temporary consolation.
Ironically, parking the country with the West has not helped us gain even any worthwhile moral support during the hijack crisis. Support from the USA has been as cool as our response to the Islamic intrusions into countries like Russia. The dominant West, and hence other countries, confined themselves to making formal condemnation. Even after six days, the ordeal did not move the USA. We found ourselves isolated and friendless in the hour of crisis. First we explained it away by citing Christmas celebrations. It took a couple of days to realise their lack of interest and discreet bid to avoid involvement in what they perceived as essentially a local issue.
The need for joint moves to tackle the fundamentalist expansionism in the region apart, the hijack episode has brought into focus several home truths which need not be repeated. When in the opposition, the present ruling party had blamed the lack of vision and promptness of the governments in tackling such crises and boasted of its own prowess. Now the laxity and goof-ups have put the BJP rulers in the same category. Politically, the PMOs excessive obsession with image building and public opinion engineering had led to many comic situations. In the beginning, the media was encouraged to go the whole hog with the humane side of the hijacking with a flood of byts and words on the sufferings of the hostages and the agony of the relatives.
After the angry demonstrations at the PMO, the relatives were abruptly pushed into the background and the humane aspect was replaced by tough image. The Amritsar goof-up made it necessary to suddenly seek the Opposition cooperation. The latter, after their own Kargil experience, refused to commit either way. In the process, the BJP rulers overlooked the need for consulting their own allies.
January 4, 1925
THE riots last week were due to the ingress of villagers from the surrounding country reinforced by Muhammedan Kohattis. The patrols reported by 8 in the morning on Friday that they could not effectively control the crowds which had succeeded, in the night or early in the morning, in making a number of breaches in the mud wall surrounding the city.
At least thirteen breaches had been made and the occupant of a Hindu house, apparently disturbed by the gathering crowds, opened fire.
This was the signal for a general resumption of firing which burst all over the Hindu Mohalla.
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