The Ganguly googly
Hamid Karzai’s victory
Gift of the grab!
Case for Chief of Defence Staff
The turban issue turns knotty
THE National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has ostensibly spoken in one voice on the crucial issue of Ayodhya. With this, the uncertainty of the NDA staying united has ended, at least for the time being. Ever since Mr Lal Krishna Advani took over as president of the BJP, there have been rumblings in the NDA over the party’s changed stance on Hindutva. Mr Advani’s statements gave the impression that the BJP was no longer willing to place Hindutva on the backburner. Some of the constituents of the NDA had even to threaten that they would opt out of the alliance if the BJP went ahead with its Hindutva agenda. Monday’s meeting of the NDA sought to address this problem. With the BJP adopting a conciliatory position, it was not difficult for the NDA to take a united stand.
The NDA has reiterated its position that the Ayodhya disputants should abide by the court decision. Since court decisions take their own time, an early negotiated settlement of the dispute by the two parties staking claim to the disputed land at Ayodhya is certainly preferable. Few can find fault with such a position, which the NDA has been holding dear ever since it came into being. In fact, the NDA would not have been able to come to power and complete a full term if the BJP had not compromised on its divisive Hindutva agenda. It was the party’s periodic assertions about remaining loyal to the common NDA agenda that enabled the party to provide leadership to the coalition.
But with the loss of power, the hardliners in of the BJP feel that any dilution of its core demands like constructing a “magnificent temple” at the disputed site at Ayodhya would go against the party’s long-term interests. It is this section, which has powerful backers in assorted organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, which has been putting pressure on the BJP leadership to go back to Hindutva. However, any such deviation will strike at the roots of the NDA without which the BJP cannot hope to come back to power in the foreseeable future. The need for a strong opposition to keep a check on the UPA government cannot be overemphasised. And the best way to keep the NDA going is for all its constituents to adhere to its common agenda and not give in to the demands of the hawks in the BJP.
The long “chargesheet” made by Congress leaders in Haryana against Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, which the latter prefers to call a “vague, baseless and politically motivated” memorandum, has come out at an unusual time. Elections are round the corner. This has enabled the man in the dock to call it a political gimmick by a party devoid of issues. But the charges are serious indeed. A non-political person would have been hauled over coals for even half of such allegations. But experience tells us that netas have a different chemistry. They can preen off most of the tar that falls on their wings. That is why one cannot be too sure about much coming out of these allegations. As a starter, Mr Chautala has threatened to slap a defamation case against the protagonists. If things prove true to form, he may come up with a similar “chargesheet” – call it a “memorandum” if you will – against his opponents. The whole thing may then get reduced to a slanging match of allegations and counter-allegations. After all, leaders with far more substantial proof of involvement are sitting pretty elsewhere in the country.
Handing over the matter to an enquiry panel should not raise much hope either. Rather, it is the best way to bury the sordid matter under the heap of notorious red tape. By the time a report is out, the affair will be long forgotten and a fresh coat of white paint will ensure that no warts are visible.
In such a bleak scenario, the best one can hope for is the capability of the public to act as the impartial jury. Some wrong-doers have gone scot-free and have even continued to thrive in the people’s court but most have been made to bite the dust at the hustings. Once they lose power, they also lose the power to escape the long arm of the law. They do not become as liable for action as an ordinary person but at least they do not enjoy as much immunity as they do while in power. For the time being the Haryana people can hardly hope for better days as all political parties in the field—in power or out of power—are throwing up choices they would rather have liked to avoid.
The Ganguly googly
Somewhere in this business of suspension is a moral. On Saturday, the International Cricket Council suspended Indian captain Saurav Ganguly for two Tests. In the cold light of the morning after the weekend, the same ICC suspended the suspension. Ganguly was suspended for his slow over rate against Pakistan in the Platinum Jubilee one-dayer in Kolkata. The suspension was put on hold after he appealed against it - because the rules lay down that when there is an appeal the suspension should be suspended. Apparently, the quality of suspension, like the quality of mercy, is not strained by excess. "It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath….", wrote the inimitable Bard. Of course, he was not speaking of the shenanigans of cricketers, umpires and the game's controllers, for here it came as a thunderclap that threatened to knock Ganguly off the pitch. Cricket may have been a gentleman's game but there's hardly anything gentle about the way it is conducted, played and promoted.
A hue and cry was only to be expected against Ganguly's suspension for the two Test series against South Africa starting on November 20. And equally expected was a revocation of the suspension. Rolling back decisions is not just the prerogative of our Finance Minister but inevitable wherever high stakes are threatened. Mercifully for Ganguly - and the ICC and match referee Clive Lloyd, who held the captain guilty of the breach - he gets to play while his appeal is pending. As the issue hangs fire - in deference to demands that Ganguly be punished, not hanged - the only refuge is the Bard on mercy: "It is twice blessed - It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes". After all, cricket is about give and take.
Hamid Karzai’s victory
MR Hamid Karzai’s triumph in Afghanistan’s first-ever election may augur the decline of Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. Since the seventies, Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan rested on its playing the religious and ethnic cards. Created as a Muslim homeland in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and defined by religion, Pakistan had at least two reasons to keep close to the Taliban.
First, Pakistan, always seeking to carve out a role for itself as the leader of the Muslim world but having little influence in the Middle-East, could have some influence in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created the chance for Pakistan to enhance its influence in Afghanistan by precipitating an alliance between Pakistan and the US. Together they built up the fundamentalist Taliban mujahideen as an Islamic force that could dislodge the Soviets. The Taliban were educated in Pakistani madarsahs, indoctrinated with extreme versions of Islam, and imbued with the religious fervour to wage war against the communist superpower. The Pakistani military and intelligence trained them to fight.
Secondly, Pashtuns straddled both sides of the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Islamabad played the tribal card to remain on good terms with the Taliban, and it was helped by the fact that most of the Taliban were Pashtuns. But many Pashtuns were not Taliban — Mr Hamid Karzai is one of them. So, 9/11 and Mr Karzai’s electoral success in Afghanistan’s first-ever election may have had far-reaching consequences for Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.
Thirdly, the US also fought the Soviets by allying with regional military commanders hostile to the Taliban, thereby facilitating warlordism. Pakistan’s intelligence service was the main conduit to the warlords. Not surprisingly, they selected the warlords that best served their own interests.
Following the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, American interest in South Asia, never very great, declined. The Taliban stepped into the political vacuum created by the Soviet withdrawal. The destructive impact of this fundamentalist regime on Afghan society and politics disgusted most countries, but Pakistan was one of the three countries in the world to recognise the Taliban government.
The incident of 9/11 changed all that. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were launched by Al-Qaeda, whose leader, Osama bin Laden, enjoyed the hospitality of the Taliban government — and, according to some reports, is today under the protection of Islamabad. Determined to stamp out Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that had housed them, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Under General Pervez Musharraf, who had come to power after a successful military coup in 1999, Islamabad did a 180-degree turn and gave the US the logistical support it wanted. Spurning the American demand would have pushed the US into an alliance with India, which would have been fatal for Pakistan.
For Pakistan the alliance was not about freedom. The US claimed to be fighting the war in defence of democratic values, but what did that mean to Pakistan? The alignment brought a fresh flow of American arms into Pakistan as America lifted the sanctions imposed after Pakistan’s nuclear explosion in 1998. General Musharraf, whose 1999 coup had made him persona non grata in Washington at a time when democracy promotion was high on the American agenda, was suddenly welcomed by the Bush administration as a moderate and progressive Muslim trying to democratise his country.
In Afghanistan the US overthrew the Taliban regime with the help of anti-Taliban Uzbek and Tajik warlords who formed the Northern Alliance. America then put its energies into hunting down the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and, along with its European allies and the UN, into initiating the military and political measures that might usher in stability and eventually create conditions for representative government in Afghanistan.
Pakistan stood to lose in any new political dispensation in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the Taliban’s defeat an interim government, with Mr Karzai as its Chairman, was created in Afghanistan in January 2002. It had no influence over Mr Karzai or the Uzbek and Tajik warlords who had joined forces with the Americans to oust the Taliban. So, it tried to persuade Mr Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that moderate Taliban should be included in the government. Afghanistan’s warlords, jostling for power in a new government, would have none of it. So, Pakistan could pull no strings over Mr Karzai’s government. Pakistan also wanted any new government to cater to the interests of the Pashtuns — or rather the Pashtuns over which it had, or thought it had, influence. Those were the Pashtuns of the Taliban kind — not of the Karzai variety.
In the Pakistani elections of October 2002, the success of Pakistani religious parties in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province gave Pakistan the chance to manipulate Pashtun sentiment on the pretext that they had lost out after 9/11 and that Pakistan wanted to help them. But this does not seem to have inspired any move for Pashtun unity from the Afghan side.
Meanwhile, Mr Karzai had to contend with two main causes of instability. First, his writ hardly ran outside Kabul, and neither he nor the US could persuade warlords to disarm and demobilise their militia.
Warlords also controlled poppy-growing areas and a lucrative opium trade, estimated at $2.5 billion and the major customs posts, including Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Balkh, through which goods were smuggled into Pakistan and Central Asia.
The second major source of instability was caused by the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who continued to be trained and sustained by Pakistan.
Nevertheless, more than 10 million Afghans turned out to vote on October 9. Their participation in the elections was an act of defiance against the gung-ho tactics of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Whatever the ethnic make up of Mr Karzai’s government, it is unlikely to include Muslims dancing to Pakistan’s tune. The chances are that Pakistan will have very little influence over the new Karzai administration.
Mr Karzai wants to use his new mandate to unite a country still riven by ethnic, religious, regional and tribal rivalries. His top priorities will include the curbing of regional warlords, the building of an effective national security force and pursuing international aid pledges to maintain national redevelopment plans. The last thing he will want will be the exploitation of Pashtun tribalism and the export of more religious extremism by Pakistan.
Mr Karzai’s success in breaking the power of warlords and the narcotics trade will not suit Pakistan, which used them as a means to enhance its influence in Afghanistan.
The US has lauded General Musharraf for hunting down Al-Qaeda, but Pakistani intelligence services and Army — or some sections of them — are likely to continue training Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists who will cross the border and threaten the stability of Afghanistan.
Even as democracy has a chance in Afghanistan, destabilisation, in the name of religion, will remain Pakistan’s card in Afghanistan. Washington should take note of it and prevent Pakistan from playing it.
Gift of the grab!
There are two faces of gift — the beautiful and the ugly. The former conveys finesse, fervour, sentiment, affection, respect or appreciation for a number of things and attributes. This is perhaps the finest way of saying, “I love you.”
The latter is “ugly” because it means flattery (not appreciation) is insincere, mawkish and motivated.
Some belonging to the latter category combine the gift of the grab with that of the graft. They are more successful ones in the modern world. Glib tongue goes well with the slimy palm.
Nowadays, even a pious festival like Divali is looked upon more as an opportunity to lubricate dry, itching palms. Sweets and sundries in fancifully wrapped covers have become a hallmark of the corrupt (corporate) culture.
Lavish parties are more an occasion for signing deals, where bribes in cash and kind change soiled hands.
Government servants, euphemistically called the steel frame of administration, are bestowed with carloads of gifts in the guise of greetings.
The practice of bribing has acquired alarming proportions because of the lure of the lucre. Everybody wants to strut in others’ furs. And what else can be more enticing than a little greasing of the palms while doing someone a favour in one’s official capacity?
It has also become an art for which one needs some amount of brains though of the dubious and sometimes devilish character as is revealed from the following story.
A contractor and his wife were discussing how to win over an engineer. It was decided that he should meet him on the festive occasion when he would be in a receptive mood.
He packed a bottle of scotch and called at his house at night. The matter having been discussed, the no-nonsense contractor offered his humble gift.
The puffed-up engineer reacted, “You are trying to bribe me.”
“No sir. It is only a gift.”
“Even then, I can’t accept it.”
“Sir, there is a solution. You pay me for it.”
Case for Chief of Defence Staff
PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh's emphasis on the need for a joint culture for the three defence services, in all aspects of their functioning, is timely and appropriate. At the Combined Commanders' conference in New Delhi recently, it is for the first time that the Prime Minister has given such a major fillip to joint endeavours by the three wings of the armed forces.
The integration of the defence services has remained only a cosmetic exercise, despite a debate on the issue over the years. Dr Manmohan Singh's exhortation is likely to remain a sentiment unless it is translated into action both by the government and the Service Headquarters. The first task that merits attention is the long-pending appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This was also the recommendation of Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence in its latest report.
Most officers of the three services, serving and retired, defence analysts, think-tanks and others have been suggesting to the government the need to formalise the joint structure, in the form of the integrated defence staff, by appointing a CDS, so that the former can start functioning in right earnest. In fact, a major recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee was the restructuring of the higher defence management in which a CDS was considered crucial to achieve coordination and synergy amongst the services and provide a single-point advice to the government. After prolonged deliberations, the government had accepted the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) in mid-2001.
The recommendation for CDS continues to be conveniently overlooked. No reasons have been assigned, but it is not difficult to speculate on the government's intentions. The many reasons cited by various analysts include an inconclusive dialogue amongst various political parties; the continuing but misplaced fear of the armed forces becoming too powerful; the machinations of the bureaucracy which feels the appointment may reduce its turf and power; institutional opposition from the Air Force; the prevailing status quoist mentality of the leadership; and the inability to decide the service from which the CDS should be selected.
Apparently, the government does not know how to go about it. Should it, for instance, first decide on the services from which the first incumbent be selected or should the selection be on merit or qualification of the selected incumbent? There is also the question of the panel from which the selection should be made. Should it be an incumbent Chief or even a retired one, or should it be a C-in-C? Then, there is the question of timing. An earlier attempt had to be aborted, as it would have had adverse repercussions on the existing hierarchy of the particular service.
The government’s dilemma is understandable. It wants a smooth transition. The problem is not insurmountable, given the political will. But there is a need to be clear as to who all are eligible for the CDS.
According to the GoM recommendations, the CDS would be a four-star flag officer from either of the three services. He will be primus inter pares (first among equals) with the other three Chiefs and function as the Principal Military Adviser to the Defence Minister; who will serve till the age of 62 years like the three Service Chiefs; and who should not revert to his parent service after being the CDS.
Most Service Chiefs have about two years plus service when appointed as Chiefs, and shifting them to the CDS slot midway during their tenures does justice neither to the service concerned nor to the integrated headquarters. Appointing an incumbent or retired Chief as the CDS is thus not a viable option.
Therefore, the panel for selecting the CDS will perforce be from one of the serving Commanders in Chief. In such a case, it is feared that the CDS would not be able to function effectively, as one or more Chiefs would be senior to him. This concern is misplaced, as at that level seniority would only be incidental and is unlikely to create any problem. In any case, all the four Chiefs would be of four-star rank and the CDS will always be the first amongst equals.
It would be in the fitness of the thing if the first CDS hails from the senior and the largest service - the Army. This is not to downgrade the importance of the Navy or the Air Force in any way, but to highlight the fact that the Army will continue to play a predominantly "lead role" in the conflicts we face today and the challenges we have to contend with in the future.
By happenstance a change in the Army hierarchy is also due shortly. Chief of Army Staff General Vij is due to retire on January 31, 2005. Apparently, the process to select his successor must be near completion. There should be no change in this process as the hierarchy should not be disturbed. However, simultaneously with the selection of General Vij's successor, the selection of the first CDS could also be carried out from within the eligible Commanders in Chief of the Army. This will result in smooth succession within the Army. A CDS can be appointed without disturbing the Army hierarchy and without depriving anyone of his dues.
The government should seize this opportunity and appoint CDS. It will translate the Prime Minister's vision into reality, upgrade the decision-making structure of security-related issues, meet the aspirations of the armed forces and ensure a relatively trouble-free transition.
The turban issue turns knotty
Sikhs are at crossroads in France. The latest French law which bans conspicuous religious symbols and apparel in public schools has caused tension for Sikhs and ruffled their religious feathers.
Not that facing crisis is a new phenomenon for the Sikh masses. But for the France’s 7000-strong (read weak) community, it is a disturbing development. As a result of the latest French ruling, Sikh boys have been refused entry into French public schools since September 2 when the schools reopened. To compound their problems further, taking leaf from their public school counterparts, even private schools have started denying entry to Sikh boys.
Even as a visiting Sikh delegation from France sought an appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the expulsion of three students — Gurvir Singh, Bikramjit Singh and Ranjit Singh — from Louise Michel School, situated in a Paris suburb, has come as a bolt from the blue. Last month, the trio was denied entry to the class in their school.
If the impasse persists, the Sikhs may ultimately have to leave France the same way some Sikhs left Uganda when Edi Amin usurped political power in the Sixties. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, some boys have resorted to cutting of hair which has shaken the Sikh religious leaders out of slumber in India. Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Chief Bibi Jagir Kaur has vowed to take the issue to the United Nations to muster global support. Others have pledged unstinted support to the French Sikhs in their own humble way.
However, the French government seems unperturbed. French Education Minister Francois Filon has said that the law had to be applied to everyone and that the Sikhs must fall in line and respect the new French law. This does not augur well for the Sikhs who are now faced with the threat of expulsion from France because of the tough posture of the French government.
That this should happen to Sikhs when our Prime Minister is himself a Sikh is adding insult to injury. Whom they should turn to now? Had somebody else been the Prime Minister, Sikhs would have accused the Centre of soft-pedalling the issue. The community is facing an unprecedented crisis.
Dr Manmohan Singh sent his National Security Adviser J.N. Dixit to Paris to resolve the issue. It may not have occurred to him that turban was a knotty affair. Mr Dixit failed to extract any positive assurance from the French government. Yet, he impressed upon the Prime Minister, who was on a visit to the US then, that the issue has been suitably resolved. It is then that the Prime Minister announced that the turban issue had been tackled.
Dr Manmohan Singh, as the most educated Prime Minister and a highly respected economist in the world, should give top priority to the issue since it is highly sensitive for the Sikhs the world over. After his visit to The Hague, he may have to address the problem himself since it will require immediate attention back home. He will have to persuade the French government to relax the rule in favour of the Sikh students though it is easier said than done. France is a sovereign country and no sovereign nation can be coerced into doing something which it does not want to do. But no one should doubt Dr Manmohan Singh’s ability and sincerity in making the French realise the Sikh point of view.
The French are equally responsible for the present imbroglio. None will deny that the Sikhs are a very visible community and carry their articles of faith no matter which country they go to. Yet, the French forgot the Sikhs when the whole country was involved in a marathon debate over the issue. No representative of the Sikhs was ever consulted.
See Him in all - a fallen leaf, a sick dog, the drunkard and the thief. Then You will know the meaning of love. — The Upanishads Stop cursing your problems, don't think of the ills of the world around you. Be happy that you have been born as a human being. Only a human being is capable of realising the objective of life. No other being can do so. — The Bhagvad Gita Those who have talent must use it in writing on Gurbani, in a dedicated spirit. — Guru Nanak Soul-force comes only through God's grace and never descends upon a man who is a slave to lust. — Mahatma Gandhi I was restless. I was doing okay, but I was restless. One day it dawned on me that I had been looking at life through the wrong end of the telescope. It was up to me to turn it around - to make it bigger, better, more satisfying. — Arnold Swarzenegger
— The Upanishads
Stop cursing your problems, don't think of the ills of the world around you. Be happy that you have been born as a human being. Only a human being is capable of realising the objective of life. No other being can do so.
— The Bhagvad Gita
Those who have talent must use it in writing on Gurbani, in a dedicated spirit.
— Guru Nanak
Soul-force comes only through God's grace and never descends
upon a man who is a slave to lust.
— Mahatma Gandhi
I was restless. I was doing okay, but I was restless. One day it dawned on me that I had been looking at life through the wrong end of the telescope. It was up to me to turn it around - to make it bigger, better, more satisfying.
— Arnold Swarzenegger