Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai attacks’

RIGHTS-INDIA: New Anti-Terror Laws Draconian Say Activists

December 22, 2008

Analysis by Praful Bidwai | Inter Press Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 19 (IPS) – Following the late November terror attacks in Mumbai, India has passed two tough laws being seen by rights activists as potentially eroding the country’s federal structure and limiting fundamental liberties.

Parliament — meeting under the shadow of the November 26-29 attacks on India’s commercial hub resulting in close to 200 deaths — approved the legislations on Thursday with no considered debate and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushing them past amendments tabled by several parliamentarians.

One law, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, seeks to establish a new police organisation to investigate acts of terrorism and other statutory offences.

The other, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, radically changes procedures for trying those accused of terrorism, extends the periods of police custody and of detention without charges, denies bail to foreigners, and the reverses the burden of proof in many instances.

Civil liberties activists and public-spirited citizens are appalled at the new laws, which they describe as draconian and excessive in relation to the measures India really needs to take to fight terrorism.

“The UAPA Act is particularly vile, and will have the effect of turning India into a virtual police state,” says Colin Gonsalves, executive director of the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network. “It basically brings back a discredited law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA), except for admitting confessions made to a police officer as legal evidence.”

POTA was an extremely unpopular law, which the UPA government abrogated upon coming to power in 2004 in response to innumerable complaints of its selective and discriminatory use against India’s Muslim minority, and its cavalier and irresponsible application to offences not even remotely connected with terrorism.

While rescinding POTA, the UPA kept in place all of India’s criminal laws, which are much stricter than those in many democracies.

In addition, it also enacted an amendment to the Unlawful Activities Act, 1967, which increased punishment for committing acts of terrorism and for harbouring terrorists or financing them, enhanced police powers of seizures, made communications intercepts admissible as evidence, and increased the period of detention without charges to 90 days from the existing 30 days.

However, this was not enough to please those who want a “strong” militarised state which will prevent and punish terrorism by violating the citizen’s fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial, and not to be detained without charges.

India’s main right-wing political group, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been stridently demanding that POTA be re-enacted. Until recently, the UPA, the Left and other centrist parties stood firm in rejecting the demand despite the numerous terrorist attacks that India has suffered over the past few years.

“But now, the UPA has suddenly, and shamefully, caved in to the BJP’s demand under the pressure of elite opinion,” says Jairus Banaji, a highly regarded Mumbai-based social scientist. “The capitulation seems to be based on the UPA’s anxiety to counter the BJP’s ridiculous charge that it lacks the will to fight terrorism, and on its political calculations about the next general election due by May.”

In its desperation to be seen to be taking a tough stand against terrorism, the Manmohan Singh government also tabled the NIA Bill earlier this week. The new agency will specifically investigate offences related to atomic energy, aviation and maritime transport, weapons of mass destruction, and Left-wing extremism, besides terrorism.

Significantly, it excludes Right-wing terrorism, which has become a greater menace in India.

Unlike the existing Central Bureau of Investigation, which needs the consent of a state before investigating crimes there, the NIA will not need a state’s concurrence. This is a serious infringement of the federal system, where law and order is a state subject.

Many state governments and regional political parties have sharply criticised the Act on this count. In India, Central agencies are politically vulnerable to manipulation by New Delhi and often used to settle scores with states ruled by opposition parties.

The NIA Act also provides for special courts to try various offences. This too has drawn criticism from eminent lawyers such as Rajeev Dhavan, who argues that the potential misuse of this anti-terror legislation will now “come from both the states and the union, which can hijack the case”.

The UAPA Act contains a number of draconian clauses, and is also applicable to the entire country — unlike the Unlawful Activities Act, which was originally not extended to the strife-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir. This too has drawn protests from Kashmir-based political parties and human rights groups.

The stringent clauses cover a broad range, including a redefinition of terrorism, harsh punishment extending from five years’ imprisonment to life sentence or death, long periods of detention, and presumption of guilt in case weapons are recovered from an accused person.

The new definition now includes acts done with the intent to threaten or “likely” to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India, and offences related to radioactive or nuclear substances, and even attempts to overawe, kidnap or abduct constitutional and other functionaries that may be listed by the government. Dhavan says: “The list is potentially endless.”

Under the Act, an accused can be held in police custody for 30 days, and further detained without charges for 180 days, although courts can restrict the period to 90 days.

“This is a travesty of constitutional rights and the rule of law,” says Gonsalves. “Even worse is the presumption of guilt in case there is a recovery of arms, explosives and other substances, suspected to be involved, including fingerprints on them. The police in India routinely plants such arms and explosives, and creates a false record of recovery.”

“The very fact that offences such as organising terrorist training camps or recruiting or harbouring terrorists carry a punishment as broad as three or five years to life imprisonment shows that the government has not applied its mind to the issue,’’ Gonsalves added.

Under the Act, there is a general obligation to disclose any information that a police officer of a certain rank thinks is relevant to the investigation. Failure to disclose information can lead to imprisonment for three years. Journalists are not exempt from this.

Besides making telecommunications and e-mail intercepts admissible as evidence, the Act also denies bail to all foreign nationals, and mandates a refusal of bail to anyone if a prima facie case exists, which is decided on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the police.

POTA and its predecessor, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), were extensively abused. They typically targeted the religious minorities, specifically Muslims, and allowed for their harassment and persecution.

The TADA story is especially horrifying. Some 67,000 people were arrested under it, but only 8,000 put on trial, and a mere 725 convicted.

Official TADA Review Committees themselves found the law’s application untenable in all but 5,000 cases. In 1993, Gujarat witnessed no terrorism, but more than 19,000 people were still arrested under TADA.

Religious minorities were selectively targeted under both Acts. For instance, in Rajasthan, of 115 TADA detainees, 112 were Muslims and three Sikhs.

Gujarat had a worse pattern under POTA, when all but one of the 200-plus detainees were Muslims, the remaining one a Sikh.

The passing of the two new laws is certain to increase the alienation of India’s Muslims from the state. They have been the principal victims of India’s anti-terrorism strategy and activities in recent years.

Muslims are first to be arrested and interrogated after any terrorist incident, even when the victims are Muslims, and although strong evidence has recently emerged of a well-ramified pro-Hindu terrorist network, in which serving and retired army officers were found to be key players.

Muslims also distressed at the alacrity and haste with which the new laws were passed, especially since it contrasts with the UPA government’s failure to enact a law it promised five years ago to punish communal violence and hate crimes targeting specific religious groups.

“This will pave the way for more disaffection amongst Muslims and make the social and political climate more conducive to terrorism,” argues Gonsalves. “Even worse, it will promote excesses of the kind associated with state terrorism. And that is no way to fight sub-state terrorism.”

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India’s Long But Sure Revolution

December 15, 2008

I

Few things about contemporary India have been as consequential as the excruciating churning among Indian Muslims. Consequential, as I suggested in an earlier column, as well for Muslims worldwide (see my “Fatwa Against Terrorism,” ZNet, June 8, 2008).

Remarkably, where vested segments among Hindu organizations have sought to move the majority community towards undemocratic closures, it is the beleaguered Muslim counterparts that have been showing the way to greater democratic consolidations.

Transcending a clutch of grievance and hurt, Indian Muslims are today truly in the leadership of Indian democracy—a day I have been wishing for and writing about for over two decades and now live to see.

And this long revolution that is underway is no sham or tactical occurrence. There is stern substance to the Muslim resolve not merely to appeal to the Constitutional regime as supplicants but indeed to function as its foremost guarantors in close clasp with secular and democratic Indians across communities.

There is to me something heroic in the way in which India’s Muslim citizens have over the last two years especially sought to redefine themselves in relation to the worldwide ummah and the nation at home. All that despite the most irksome provocation.

It is the rigour of that introspection which today translates un-selfconsciously into a rejection of ungodly mayhem carried out ostensibly in defence of the faith, even as Indian Muslims along with millions of other Indians remain cognizant, as they ought to, of the oppressive forces that alternately both create and denigrate religious and cultural reaction—forces that reside both outside India and among comprador social interests at home.

II

If the discovery earlier of terrorist perpetrators with Hindu names had paradoxically helped to relieve the unmitigated odium vented on Muslims, obliging right-wing fascists, rather abjectly, to mirror a helpless Muslim discourse in their defence, the vanguard role played by Indian Muslims in condemning the attack on Mumbai on behalf not just of common humanity but of India has led to a still more far-reaching historical consequence.

This watershed secular assertion has had the effect of taking the stuffing out of what electoral expectations the right-wing Hindu BJP came to harbour in the wake of the Mumbai attack.

Its emphatic losses in the states that went to the polls after the terrorist strike scream a grassroot rejection of its communal politics. And of the ugly callousness that informs it.

However wedded to the BJP, India’s corporate media have had the sense to welcome this occurrence, as it now banners the slogan that terror must never be politicized. Better late than never.

It will not be long before the residual interests of India’s capitalist class and collaborative elites in retaining denominational politics, notwithstanding their often disingenuous noises against communalism, will also have to yield to propagating secular democracy in more convincing ways.

Always wary of class consolidations from “below”, India’s political class will, nonetheless, sooner than later, find it as expedient to be in the forefront of the fight against communalist politics as they are now against terrorism.

And, as these histories ripen and fructify, the credit in overwhelming measure will go to Indian Muslims and to the leadership they are now furnishing.

Prophesies can come good only as products of dedicated human labour. As India’s Muslims now come together with the great mass of other secular Indians, that labour is truly underway and destined to succeed.

III

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, this writer, like many others, has received agonizing notes from compatriots in Pakistan.

And they ask the question: can any Pakistanis truly have been involved? Is this again a “nationalist” outcry from India? Do we not realize how wistfully fragile the democratic experiment in Pakistan is, and how ambushed from all ends?

I say to them that Indian Muslims truly show the way as much to Pakistan now as they do to India.

If their leadership in India helps to render toothless and dysfunctional entrenched evils at home, it carries an equally important message to Muslims in Pakistan.

Do not simply jerk into unanalysed, Pavlonian “Muslim nationalist” reactions to what has happened.

Go rather back to the insight that Jinnah had voiced in his address to the very first session of the Assembly of the new nation of Pakistan.

In short, however the partition of India may have been brought about by vested interests on all sides, revisit the “two-nation” theory, revise the Constitution, and be reborn as a secular nation-state. In that future alone resides the well-being of the subcontinent and of much more.

Same must be the counsel for Bangladesh, indeed more especially. Given that the territory could not stay put as part of an “Islamic Pakistan,” it is an irony that upon that severance Bangladesh should still want to espouse a theocratic statehood.

If Nepal could do it why not others?

IV

Meanwhile, it is gratifying that the UPA regime in Delhi has thus far not succumbed to the brainless jingoism of the South Mumbai crowd and those in the establishment who view that jingoism with favour.

There is now a political elite in India that requires ATM-like solutions to historical conundrums. Push in that card and pull out the required political currency, as it were. Drop the bomb and warn them not to drop their’s etc., All very profoundly slick, no doubt, but eminently ignorable. As in money-making, the shortest of short cuts is recommended—and with educated bluster in the English language.

Nonetheless, it is that Dhoni from Jharkhand who may be trusted with bringing victory to India, because less slick and more astute. And more hard-working as well. As much in politics as in cricket.

Luckily, there does exist a constituency in the Indian establishment that truly realizes that every Indians’ best interest is served if India serves the best interests of most Pakistanis. No easy job that, but increasingly both desirable and possible, since answering constituencies also speak up from Pakistan as they did not before with quite the same conviction.

Such a praxis on either side, and conjointly, must seek to isolate from public sympathy, public space, and all kinds of state favour those that find democracy ill-suited to their purposes, but misuse it nonetheless. Or make opportunist disclaimers when it suits them, as Sonal Shah is doing this minute, fearing she may be shunted out of the Obama transition team were she not to do so in time.

And it must equally seek to distance democracy in the subcontinent from superpower interests that work their nefarious way by alternately feeding the cupidities of entrenched classes or threatening disastrous military reprisals.

They ought to be referred back to the problems they have at home, dime a dozen, and indeed encouraged to change course.

In that context, President-elect Obama’s resolve to be sworn in not just as “Barack Obama” but as “Barack Hussein Obama” is a most worthy and visionary step in the right direction.

It is not that in so doing Obama will have become a Muslim; it is that he will be saying that religious denominations are simply the donnee of individual identity, and need have no bearing on our citizenship or entitlements thereof. As Colin Powell was to say honourably enough during the campaign.

The worry is, as John Pilger has pointed out in a recent ZNet article, that Obama’s appointments to the cabinet seem thus far to suggest a pattern of “continuity” rather than “change.” Surprised?

All the more reason therefore for us on the subcontinent to learn to consolidate our own lives and institutions along principles that bring the most benefit in terms of non-sectarian social and cultural cohesion, collective secular endeavour, and enlightened economic democracy spread amongst the widest commonality.

The more we embrace that sort of historical project together, India and Pakistan can begin to draw away from wasteful militarism that feeds the pockets only of those that retain a value for conflict and destruction, and learn to stand up to threats as two nation-states but one people.

And that includes the Kashmiris as well, who have just been demonstrating their allegiance to the principle of democracy in unprecedented ways.

The Kashmir issue and the violence in the Indian subcontinent

December 10, 2008

Nasir Khan, December 8, 2008

Almost the whole world has condemned the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Such terrorism has also, once again, reminded us how important it is to combat the forces of communalist terror and political violence in the Indian subcontinent. But what is often ignored or suppressed is the fact that there are deep underlying causes of the malaise that erupts in the shape of such violent actions; the unresolved Kashmir issue happens to be the one prime cause that inflames the passions and anger of millions of people.

However, to repeat the mantra of “war on terror” as the Bush Administration has done over the last eight years while planning and starting major wars of aggression does not bring us one inch closer to solving the problem of violence and terror in our region. On the contrary, such short-sighted propaganda gimmicks are meant to camouflage the wars of aggression and lay the ground for further violence and bloodshed. The basic motive is to advance imperial interests and domination. The so-called “war on terror” is no war against terror; on the contrary, it has been the continuation of the American imperial policy for its definite goals in the Middle East and beyond. Obviously any serious effort to combat terror will necessarily take into account the causes of terror, and not merely be content with the visible symptoms.

The unresolved issue of Kashmir has kept India and Pakistan on a dangerous course of confrontation since 1947, when the British raj came to an end and as a last act of charity to their subjects the imperial rulers agreed to divide India along communal lines that was to prove a Pandora’s box for the coming generations. We had witnessed their double-dealings in the process when they gave their blessings and patronage here and there and a lot of mischief wherever possible especially while they drew the boundaries between the two emerging countries. The recipients of favours reciprocated in kind: the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten was made the first Governor-General of Free India! This carefully crafted expedient arrangement served its purpose well for one country at the cost of the other.

At the time of partition, the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh who was the great-grandson of Gulab Singh, to whom the British, under the terms of the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) had sold the entire valley of Kashmir. Because the overwhelming majority of Kashmir was Muslim, it was thought that Kashmir would  join the new state of Pakistan. When the Kashmiris from what came to be  known  as Azad Kashmir and the tribal fighters from the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan started a guerilla offensive on the state to bring pressure on Hari Singh to join Pakistan, he asked Lord Mountbatten for help, who agreed to give military help if the ruler joined India. Thus started the first war between India and Pakistan that finally stopped in 1949 when the newly-formed United Nations Organization arranged a ceasefire. The Line of Control was established that has remained the de facto boundary between the Indian-controlled Kashmir and ‘Azad’ (Free) Jammu and Kashmir (but called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the Indians).

To affect a ceasefire, in 1948, India took the matter to the Security Council of the United Nations against Pakistan. As a result the Security Council passed three resolutions in 1948 and 1949 that also acknowledged the rights of the people of Kashmir about whose land the two countries were fighting . According to the resolutions, India and Pakistan were to hold plebiscite in Kashmir so that the people could decide their own future. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised that the people of Jammu and Kashmir would gain independence when the peace was restored. After the end of the hostilities, he did not keep his word; neither were the terms of the resolutions ever fulfilled. The Indian government granted a special status to Kashmir that allowed more internal autonomy. This was thought to pacify the people when Kashmir’s ruler joined India. But the promise to hold plebiscite was not kept and the successive Indian governments have adamantly held that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and all demands of the Kashmiri people for plebiscite or defying Indian occupation were presented as internal Indian matters. No third party was allowed to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people or voice their legitimate demands under the UN Charter or the UN resolutions. Meanwhile India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir another war in 1965.

The grievances of Kashmiris had accumulated over the decades. Kashmiris challenged the legitimacy of the Indian occupation and in 1989 they started armed struggle to evict the occupiers. Mass arrests, disappearances and violence followed in the wake of the military crackdown. India deployed more than 500,000 soldiers to suppress the Kashmiri Muslims.

According to conservative accounts Indian forces killed about 78,000 people and  brutalized the whole population, but the Kashmiri sources put the number of those killed  around 100,000. In this militant struggle, Kashmiri Hindu minority, the Pandits, also became the victims insurgents; according to the state government over 200,000 fled the valley. They sought refuge in Jammu and some fled to India. The conditions under which the Pandits have lived since their displacement have been deplorable. But it is heartening to see that all sections of Kashmiri Muslims and their leadership are now pleading for the return of their Hindu brothers to their homeland.

After 18 years of brutal military occupation, the Indian government was faced with a new situation. The Kashmir Jehad Council called for an end to armed struggle and instead appealed to all militant freedom-fighters to use only non-violent and peaceful means to achieve liberation from India. The call for Azadi (freedom) is getting louder which the Indian machine guns and their marauding forces are not able to drown. But the Indian rulers have shown little willingness to listen to the people and have kept a tight military stranglehold over the Kashmir Valley.

The Kashmir conflict has caused untold misery and destruction in Kashmir, both in life and property. It has also been the key cause of tension between India and Pakistan as rivals. The tremendous drain of resources incurred by the two countries on military buildup and arms-race including the acquisition of nuclear bombs is a result of their confrontation over Kashmir. The official propaganda each government has directed against the other created enmity, distrust and hatred in the respective populations of these countries against their “mortal enemy”. This has gone on for over six decades and there is no end in sight. This has poisoned the minds of Indian and Pakistani people. As a result we see political polarization and perennial tensions amongst the people that stand in the way of settling the issues like Kashmir and the normalization of relations between the two neighbours. In addition, another ghastly development has been the rise of political and religious extremism in India and Pakistan.

The growth of religious and political extremism in India and Pakistan is not new. But what is new is the general acceptance of extremist tendencies in the social and political fabric of the two countries. The preachers and high priests of communalism and hatred influence the mainstream politics.

In India, some political parties have been closely allied with communalist militant political Hinduism or Hindutva. The Sangha Parivar is the umbrella organization for all Hindutva parties. The avowed aim of Hindutva has been to assert Hindu supremacy and Hindu communalism in India by identifying India with Hinduism and Hindu rule. Hindutva organizations are influenced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which stands for a Hindu majoritarian rule. The Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) is the leading political party of India that stands for Hindutva doctrine and Hinduising the entire country. Jawaharlal Nehru had once warned that if fascism would arrive in India, it would arrive in the form of majoritarian (Hindu) communalism. His words and warning were almost prophetic.

Of course, the main targets of Hindutva have been the Indian Muslims in the first place, followed by low-caste Hindus–formerly “Untouchables” (!) and now called Dalits–, and Christians. Over 150-million Indian Muslims are a religious minority in India. Since the unfortunate circumstances that led to the partition of India in 1947, Indian Muslims have come under enormous pressure. They have gradually found themselves at the mercy of Hindus, politically marginalized and socially alienated in their own country. Even their national status and loyalties became suspect. They are “Muslims first”, so how can they be “true Indians”? And, why are they in Hindu India anyway if they don’t like India or complain about their lot in India? They can just pack up and go away. They are ‘Pakistanis’ and should migrate to their own country!

Such views and political developments in India have left Indian Muslims in an extremely difficult situation. In 1992, Hindu militants destroyed sixteenth-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya while the state authorities stood idle by. The then Indian prime minister promised to re-build the mosque. The promised was not kept. Instead a temple was raised on the site of the destroyed mosque that provoked religious frenzy and communal passions. Three thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the ensuing riots.

Two thousand Muslims were massacred in 12002 in Gujarat, which was a full blooded pogrom which took place under the state government run by the BJP. The New Delhi rulers did not intervene to stop the massacre of Muslims.

Attacks on Muslim holy places and people have increased in the recent years. In one recent attack by Hindutva activists on a mosque a Hindu lieutenant-colonel of the Indian army was arrested for his involvement in the attack.

In Pakistan, fundamentalist religious parties have felt duty-bound to monopolise Islam, but they have never at any time gained much support in the masses. Their poor electoral results in various elections have clearly demonstrated that. However, Pakistani Muslim clerics have gained much notoriety for their inter-religious invective. The Sunni preachers direct their anger at the “infidel” Shias and the Shia preachers reciprocate by calling the Sunnis “infidels”! This leads to an unending cycle of violence and acrimony in the name of Islam. But the danger posed by militant Islamist groups in stirring violence and hatred is beyond doubt. However, the Indian treatment of the Kashmiri Muslims and the unresolved Kashmir issue because of Indian intransigence is universally condemned by all Pakistanis; it also provides an opportunity to the militant groups like Lasher-e-Taiba and others who exhort their followers to avenge the grievances of their Indian co-religionists at the hands of Hindutva militants as well as to make a stand for the freedom of Kashmir by all means, including violence. This is exactly what happened last month in the Mumbai attacks.

For the last six decades India has maintained its occupation of the Kashmir Valley by political manipulation and brutal military force. The massacres of the Kashmiri Muslims by Indian forces amount to war crimes under international law; however, the ultimate responsibility for this genocidal policy lies with the New Delhi rulers. If Indian government wants to continue with the occupation of Kashmir and also expect that people of Kashmir will forego their demands for freedom because they face a great military and economic power like India, which has extended its cooperation with other imperialist powers like America and Zionist Israel, then one thing is certain: the situation will get worse; violence and terror will flourish.

The 10-million Muslims of the Kashmir Valley want independence from Indian colonial rule and oppression. The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition.

Whether the people of the Kashmir Valley decide to join India or Pakistan, or they opt for full independence should be for them to decide. No matter what decision they make to determine their future as stipulated by the UN resolutions should be their and their alone. However, it is far from certain that they will choose to join Pakistan, but if they do so that should not worry India. In such a case, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh will certainly join India. Thus, by a wise and courageous step Indian leaders can create the political conditions under which a new era of good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan can materalise if they allow the people of the Kashmir Valley to control their own destiny instead of the inhumane treatment and humiliation at the hands of the Indian state and its armed forces. Once the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan is removed then the two former rivals and “enemies” can become friends and concentrate on socio-economic problems of their people within a peaceful atmosphere. An independent and self-governing entity in the Kashmir Valley will bring hope and good-will to its neighbours. By removing the biggest unresolved problem of Kashmir that has fueled hostility and has caused immeasurable damage, the two countries will also be able to contain the forces of communalism and religious fanaticism that plague India and Pakistan.


Nasir Khan is a peace activist. He is the author of Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings 1843-44 (1995) and Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey (2006). He has his own blogs at http://nasir-khan.blogspot.com and  https://sudhan.wordpress.com through which he can be contacted.

INDIA/PAKISTAN: Pleas For Sanity as Sabres Rattle Over Mumbai Mayhem

December 1, 2008


Analysis by Beena Sarwar | Inter Press Service


KARACHI, Dec 1 (IPS) – The pattern is all too familiar. Every time India and Pakistan head towards dialogue and detente, something explosive happens that pushes peace to the backburner and drags them back to the familiar old tense relationship, worsened by sabre-rattling war cries from both sides.

The relationship between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours has been marked by tentative ups and plunging downs, particularly over the past decade. This decade is also marked by increasingly vocal voices for peace on both sides of the border who openly criticise their countries’ political and security establishments.

The fallout from the Mumbai mayhem is no different, if all the more ominous for having taken place in the midst of the global ‘war on terror’ with its ‘us versus them’ rhetoric that has contributed to escalated violence around the world and pushed fence-sitters onto one or other side.

On Wednesday a ten-man squad of Islamist warriors armed with assault rifles and hand grenades landed in the port city Mumbai and, after going on shooting spree, seized control of two of its finest luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. By the time commandos neutralised the attackers and lifted the sieges Friday, 200 people lay dead –including 22 foreign hostages.

Pakistan and India are part of the Indian sub-continent. They share a landmass, mountain ranges, rivers and seas, ancient cultures, history, languages and religions. Yet they have fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947, after the bloody partition of the sub-continent into two countries — largely Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan.

The fourth major conflict between the two countries was the Kargil conflict of 1999 that the political leadership on both sides referred to as a ‘war-like situation’. The nuclear threat that underlined this situation drew the world’s attention to India-Pakistan relations, and the festering issue of the disputed state of Kashmir, as never before.

A year earlier, India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests of May 1998 had plunged the region into an unprecedented state of tension. The governments celebrated their nuclear capability, feeding rivalry, jingoism and nationalism on both sides that the media played up. There was far less coverage of those who condemned the tests and the governments’ encouragement of reactionary forces that equated religion with nationhood.

Those who protested were swimming against the tide, labelled as traitors and anti-nationals, and ‘agents’ of the other country, like Islamabad-based physicist A.H. Nayyar who has been active in the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy since the organisation was launched in 1995.

As Nayyar and pro-peace activists addressed a press conference condemning the nuclearisation of the region, charged-up young men who supported Pakistan’s nuclear tests physically attacked them with chairs.

Now, expressing his shock at the “mindless, horrible event” in Mumbai, he told IPS: “There are people in both countries who don’t like efforts towards rapprochement. They take the first opportunity to start blowing the bugles of war and instigate hostility.”

Continued  >>

Mumbai May Derail India-Pakistan Peace Progress

November 30, 2008
Shuja Nawaz | The Washington Post, Nov 29, 2008

Even as the civilian death toll of the Mumbai attacks climbs, fallout from these terrorist actions threatens thawing relations between India and Pakistan.

The danger signals are already evident, as first reactions from the Indian government tended to blame “foreign” intervention, a code word for Pakistan. However, the prompt response from the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi indicates a willingness to stem the ratcheting of tensions between the two rival states.

Pakistan will send the head of its Inter Services Intelligence, Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to India to help in the investigation. Referring to Lashkar-e-Tayaba, the group whose tactics in the past resemble those employed in the Mumbai attacks, Qureshi told an Indian press conference “we have no patience for such organizations” in Pakistan.

Pakistani civil society has been generally quiet in attacking religious extremism. Neither the government nor the military can successfully proceed against terrorism without public support. Yet, there are signs of hope. President Asif Ali Zardari recently offered to open up borders with India for visa-free travel and to eschew a first nuclear strike. Earlier this week, the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad and agreed to begin cooperating against terrorism and to bring the Federal Bureau of Investigations of Pakistan and the Central Bureau of Investigation of India in close contact to that end.

But the Mumbai attacks and India’s response to them could derail the peace process — presumably what the militants would want — particularly if India’s leaders attempt to tie homegrown militants to Pakistan-based Islamist groups or the Pakistani state.

India is preparing for a general election in 2009, which may account for tough talk by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Moreover, focusing on possible involvement of foreign groups in the Mumbai attacks may distract attention from the urgent need to resolve the underling issues of the Indian Muslim community that foster militancy among its youth.

Four out of every 10 Muslims in India’s cities — and three out of 10 in the countryside — are living below the poverty line, according to the government-sponsored Sachar Commission Report of November 2006. One third of villages in India with a majority Muslim population do not have any educational institutions at all. As a result, Indian Muslims have not been able to benefit from the development and explosive growth of India’s economy in recent years.

Economic and political deprivation may have spawned the Indian Mujahideen movement and its offshoot, the Students Islamic Movement of India. Those groups, in turn, may have had links to the extremist Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of Pakistan and its affiliate the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Bangladesh (HUJI). The tactics of the Mumbai attacks resemble Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operations: a swarming attack with handheld weapons and grenades, often timed with significant Indo-Pakistan peace talks or friendly actions.

What to do?

Both the Indian and Pakistani governments need to stay firmly on the path of peace. The costs of inaction are too high for both. Pakistan is fighting a huge insurgency on its western border. It cannot afford another hot border facing India. It is also worth recalling that of the 60 suicide bombings in Pakistan in 2007, 47 per cent were directed against the military, 20 per cent against the police, and 13 per cent against the government and politicians. Over 420 hundred military personnel and 220 civilians were killed in these attacks, according to figures compiled by the Ministry of Interior. Militancy and the military do not mix anymore.

India needs to quell the rise of its many internal insurgencies that jeopardize its development. It needs to focus on bringing Indian Muslims into the mainstream. Civil society in both countries, especially the leadership of Islamic organizations, need to speak out against terror in the name of Islam. At the recent meeting of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, a leading Indian editor and poltiical analyst, M.J. Akbar, reminded those present of the Prophet Mohammed’s injunction: “Islam has clearly laid down that killing one human being is like killing the entire humanity and saving one’s life is like saving the entire humanity.”

Muslims of the sub-continent need to mount a Jihad against terror and for peace between India and Pakistan. The alternative is likely to be more mayhem and chaos.

Shuja Nawaz, an independent political analyst, is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford University Press 2008). He can be reached at www.shujanawaz.com

Badri Raina: Mumbai Attacks, Some Questions

November 30, 2008

Enough is Enough

Says who to whom?

The Light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

(Gospel, Matthew, 6:22)

I

My skimpy acquaintance with the Taj hotel in what was then Bombay goes back to 1962.

I had been selected as a rookie sales executive by the then world’s largest corporate house, Standard Oil, whose Asia division was called ESSO.

Our offices, also then the only air-conditioned building in Bombay, was at Nariman point.

Such was the nature of my job that on two or three occasions I had to be inside the Taj, full of smiles and business.

Some three years later I decided I wasn’t going to sell oil for the next forty years, and I quit cold turkey to return happily to an academic life, liberally enlivened with activist involvements.

In short, the Taj hotel is truly a magnificent structure, although those days it made me happier to look at its magnificence from the outside than wheeling-dealing inside.

Like every other Indian, therefore, I am deeply saddened both by the insane loss of life, notable and ordinary, and by the damage done to this edifice. Especially when I recall that the Taj was the result of a laudable anti-colonial impulse, since Jamshedji had been refused entrance to another hotel reserved exclusively for the British.

II

My thoughts are here occasioned by a programme that one premier English-language electronic channel has been running since last night.

It is captioned “enough is enough.”

As I have listened to the outrage pouring out from a diverse assortment of some celebrity Mumbai citizens whose haunts habitually remain restricted to the affluent South Mumbai—a zone of peace and prosperity that has had its first rite of passage to the ugliness that afflicts the rest of the city, indeed the rest of India, and rest of the world—I find myself asking the question “who is it saying ‘enough is enough’, to whom, and why now”?

And how credible is the slogan of unity-at-any-cost that now so invigorates the fortunate classes in the wake of this traumatic experience?

And why should these imperious syllables calculated to shut off debate be received with unquestioning compliance when the mind is wracked by instances when South Mumbai-India has failed to employ the same “single eye” to pronounce on other murderous and murderously divisive events?

Today, thanks to the exemplary courage and discipline of India’s security forces, the Taj may have been disfigured and damaged, however brutally, but not demolished—something that seemed to have been the intent of the terrorist attack.

But, alas, some sixteen years ago a four-hundred year old iconic mosque was axed and hatcheted out of existence while the forces stood and watched, as did the whole nation on television.

Neither that fateful day, nor once in the last sixteen years, has the cry gone up “enough is enough” on behalf of those that are now so outraged. Educated noises have been made, which is not the same thing as saying never again should this country countenance social forces that brought that watershed calamity about.

Only conscientious citizens have struggled since to bring succour and justice to the victims, often suffering opprobrium from elite India that sees them as busybodies.

Indeed, the worthies that were visibly culpable in inflicting that blood-thirsty catastrophe on the nation continue to remain in good favour with influential sections of the corporate media which may have carried on a debate on the issue but never admonished “enough is enough.”

Some two hundred lives have been lost to the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Yet when, following the demolition of the Babri mosque, our own people killed a thousand or so of our own people in the very same Mumbai, the debate never ceased, and has not to this day.

Nor has the same terminal urgency that is now in evidence informed elite comment as to why those found guilty in that massacre (1992-93) by a high-powered Commission of Enquiry have not been given their due deserts

And what of the Gujarat massacres of 2002? No terrorists from outside there too, but our own good citizens, secure in the knowledge that they had the blessings of the top man in the job. The very top man who continues to be the darling of many elites who do not fight shy of drooling over what a wonderful chief executive he would make for the whole country, full of “development” and profit maximization.

No wonder that Mr. Modi should have been the first to hold a press briefing outside “ground zero” (am I sick of that copy-cat phrase) even while the bullets were flying, making it an occasion to deride no less than the Prime Minister.

The same Mr. Modi who until the other day publicly vented his strongest barbs at the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) for daring to enquire into cases of Hindutva terrorism.

Narry an “enough is enough” there; only a shamefaced disapproval barely audible on the channels.

Indeed, should you ask me, I might say that the most heroic vignette during the current imbroglio has been the refusal of the widow of the slain Karkare, erstwhile head of the ATS, to accept Modi’s devious offer of money.

As also an SMS doing the rounds, asking where Raj Thackeray, the great divisive champion of Marathi interests, has been while Mumbai was being butchered? And did he know that it was security personnel drawn from all over the country, including overwhelmingly from the north and the south, who were dying to save his Marathi manoos as much as anyone else in the city?

The same Thackeray clan to whom South Mumbai never seems to say “enough is enough,” cannily remembering that in time of trouble they may after all have no recourse but to their lumpen mercy.

And how ironic that we should then lament how the spirit of a grand unity so eludes us ?

In one brief word, why do we not ever hear an unequivocal “enough is enough” in relation to the politics of fascist communalism? Or an unequivocal recognition of its intimate bearing on terrorism? Why do these realities remain subjects of TV debates from endless week to endless week wherein the culprits are afforded more than equal time?

Continued >>

Pakistan condemns Mumbai attack, offers cooperation

November 28, 2008

Zeeshan Haider

Reuters North American News Service

Nov 27, 2008 12:53 EST

ISLAMABAD, Nov 27 (Reuters) – Pakistan condemned on Thursday militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 107 people and promised full cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have warmed in recent years and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made moves to improve ties further.

But big militant attacks in India always fan suspicion of Pakistani involvement, either by Pakistan-based militants or even its security agents.

Pakistan bemoans what it sees as knee-jerk blame.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militant groups based in India’s neighbours, which usually means Pakistan, for the Mumbai attacks, raising fears of renewed tension.

Zardari and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, deplored the attacks in separate messages earlier on Thursday.

“President Zardari stressed the need for taking strict measures to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the region,” the state-run APP news agency said. Zardari, widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, came to power after February polls that restored civilian rule.

He wants to push forward a four-year peace process with India, launched after they nearly fought a fourth war in 2002.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who arrived in India on Wednesday for a four-day visit, said he was shocked and horrified by the “barbaric” attacks in Mumbai.

Noting a spate of attacks in Pakistan, including a suicide attack on one of Islamabad’s top hotels in September, Qureshi said all civilised societies had to work to fight with terrorism.

“Pakistan offers complete support and cooperation to deal with this menace,” he said.

KASHMIR DISPUTE

The use of heavily armed “fedayeen” or suicide attackers in Mumbai bears the hallmarks of Pakistan-based militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, blamed for a 2001 attack on India’s parliament.

Both groups are banned in Pakistan. They made their name fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir and were closely linked in the past to the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Intelligence agency, the ISI.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any role in the attacks, and said it had no links with any Indian group. Instead, the little-known Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility.

A militant holed up at a Jewish centre in Mumbai phoned an Indian television channel and complained about abuses in Kashmir.

Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar warned against a blame game with India.

“Nobody should blame anyone without any evidence and verification,” Mukhtar told Reuters. “We have nothing to do with these attacks. We condemn these attacks.”

The main dispute between Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India is the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part.

Pakistan for years supported militants battling Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. It also backed the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, then military ruler Pervez Musharraf broke off support for the Taliban and reined in the Kashmiri militants.

Pakistan says it offers political support for what it sees as a freedom struggle by the Muslims of Indian-controlled Kashmir, where troops have been battling an insurgency since 1989. (Writing by Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters North American News Service


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