Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ABUL HASHEM HAD A POINT - The state of permanent insurgency must be overcome by Ashok Mitra

The Telegraph (Calcutta)
June 22 , 2009

Srinagar, June 20, 2009

Sixty-two years ago, summertime 1947, everything seemed hunky-dory to decision-makers at the top. The viceroy and governor general, Mountbatten, had already sorted out matters with both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The country would be partitioned but made independent at the same time; the districts of the two big provinces, Punjab and Bengal, would be divided between the two new countries; a referendum was being arranged in the North-West Frontier Province and the Muslim-majority district of Sylhet in Assam to know the mind of the people there; a commission was to work out the cartographic details of the partition. The Congress bosses were happy; although it would be a truncated India, they would at least be rid of the nuisance of Jinnah breathing down their neck all the while. The Muslim League leaders, too, were in the seventh heaven of joy, they were getting the coveted trophy of Pakistan, something they could not even dare to dream of even a few months ago. The killings and other bestialities later in the year were not on their panorama of prospective events. Such, in brief, was the formal 1947 agenda written down by the last British viceroy. It looked neat and smooth, and no hitches, either major or minor, were anticipated.

Abul Hashem, a person now totally forgotten by history, suddenly proposed to disturb this set agenda. Hashem came from a well-known landowning Bengali family with extensive real estate, particularly in the district of Burdwan. His father, Abul Kasem, was a noted philanthropist; while a member of the provincial legislative council in the 1920s, he had initiated a number of measures to provide relief to the debt-ridden, impoverished peasantry. Abul Hashem inherited his father's broad liberal outlook, but there was a bit more in his attitude to life. Many of his generation were infected by radical ideas which had their genesis in the success of the revolution in Russia and, subsequently, in the splendid Soviet resistance to Nazi aggression. Quite a few of his cousins, nephews and other near relations subscribed to some version or other of Marxism; some of them had even joined the communist party. In fact, for decades on end, quite a number of offices of the Communist Party of India in both Burdwan and Calcutta were located in buildings gifted by relatives of Hashem.

Hashem thought the more appropriate course for him would be to join the Muslim League and radicalize it. He infiltrated into the party and, given family connections, could get elected as the general secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League in 1943. (In his memoirs, Hashem mentions that at the meeting where he was elected to the post, he was clad in a dhoti.)

His hopes of transforming the League were short-lived. The fervour and frenzy of pro-Pakistani sentiment did not leave the Bengali Muslim masses unaffected either. Hashem soon found himself without much of a following. Even so, he thought hard about the likely plight of Bengali Muslims, economically awesomely backward and mostly without letters in a Punjabi-dominated Pakistan. He was, at the same time, a firm believer in the ethnic and cultural affinity between the Muslim and Hindu communities in Bengal. He therefore decided, almost single-handedly, to try to change the Mountbatten agenda. By that time, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy too had lost his footing in the Muslim League and was more or less in political wilderness. The situation was not dissimilar to that of Sarat Chandra Bose. He had also been sidetracked in the Congress and squeezed out of the interim cabinet. Hashem discussed his proposal of an independent sovereign Bengal with both Bose and Suhrawardy. They endorsed it, and publicly demanded that Bengal be allowed to opt out of the Mountbatten scheme and allowed to emerge as a third entity out of the corpus of British India. The proposal got known as the Bose-Suhrawardy formula; its real author was, however, Abul Hashem.

Great resentment spread in establishment circles at what was described as the Bose-Suhrawardy pipedream. How dare this couple of yesterday's men, reduced to political insignificance, challenge the blueprint of Independence agreed to by the two political parties that mattered and already in the process of being implemented? Jinnah repudiated it with scornful silence. The Congress high command got in touch with Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the Hindu Mahasabha leader; together they launched a ferocious campaign against this 'conspiracy' to prevent the infiltration of the Hindu-majority districts of Bengal with independent India. The Bengali press foamed in the mouth; such knavery must not pass, the idea of a sovereign Bengal was ludicrous, they wanted Bengal to be divided, and with despatch.

The move for an independent sovereign Bengal died a quick death in 1947. That meant no dishonour though to Abul Hashem, for within the next quarter of a century Bangladesh made its entry as a sovereign republic in the subcontinent, as much a reality as India and Pakistan were. The bulk of Bengali Hindus were, however, no part of it; they had already chosen their destiny.

Hashem's only fault was, it would appear in retrospect, that his idea was ahead of the times. When Bangladesh became free in December 1971, he was still alive and in Dhaka. By then, he was a nobody. He was a nobody despite the fact that not Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but he, Hashem, was the authentic creator of independent Bangladesh.

The formation of Bangladesh proved an important point. History sometimes sets aside a sheaf of preconceived agendas and replaces it with an innovative item. Come to think of it, no item in Mountbatten's 1947 agenda is left unresolved apart from Kashmir, which has been troubling India as well as Pakistan - perhaps more India than Pakistan - continuously over the long decades. But there is seemingly light at the end of the tunnel. Both Pakistan and India now firmly belong to the American hegemony. The possibility is high, signs suggest, that under American mediation, a bilateral agreement would be reached soon between the two countries over Kashmir. A harassed Pakistani regime, under siege from the Taliban, might well agree to accept the line of control as the permanent border. The political parties in India would go along, happy that the Americans have succeeded in persuading the leaders of Pakistan to see reason.

This, then, is this year's American agenda for India and Pakistan. The parties concerned are expected to put their seal of approval on it in the course of the next few months. But, again, a hacker could be at work. Passion over Kashmir has died down in Pakistan; at least that nation has, at the moment, other, graver issues to grapple with; if the suggestion to convert the LoC into the permanent border is formalized, no searing protest is likely to ravage Pakistan. Will that, however, be the case on this side of the border too? Doubts accumulate. The Yasin Maliks will not melt into thin air just like that. Whatever the outcome of the Lok Sabha and state assembly polls, separatists continue to provide evidence of their commanding influence over considerable sections of the valley's population; they nurse grievances that run deep, they will not be cowed down by the provisions of any India-Pakistan treaty solemnized under the auspices of the United States of America. The valley will therefore remain in a state of permanent insurgency. The trouble-makers will keep thronging parks, thoroughfares and highways and bring life to a standstill whenever they wish. The Indian army, police and para-military personnel will, therefore, continue to be needed to maintain "law and order". The scenario will hardly change from what it now is. Confrontations will take place with unerring regularity between the agitators and Indian forces, resulting in casualties, which in turn will provoke more agitations. Peace will appear to elude the valley for ever.

Bangladesh and Abul Hashem clinched the point: sometimes certain things happen without their being a part of the official agenda. Kashmir could well follow the Bangladesh precedent. The strain on India's overall resources to keep Kashmir on leash could be so severe that public opinion in the country might, in the not so distant future, be forced to re-do the emotional arithmetic: holding on to a piece of property infested by a hostile populace which costs an annual expenditure of thousands and thousands of crores of rupees might be a proposition looked upon with increasing disfavour. The agenda could then shift.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We will spread this fire, says the Maoist from Lalgarh - Special Report - The Times of India

We will spread this fire, says the Maoist from Lalgarh - Special Report - The Times of India

Price of Rice, Price of Power in India By P. SAINATH

*Raising the Bar for Public Expectations * *Price of Rice, Price of Power in India * By P. SAINATH

Now that we have a Indian cabinet whose assets total close to Rs. 5 billion (US $1 = 48 rupees) on their own declaration, with Ministers worth over Rs. 75 million each on average, it will be worth watching how they rise to the challenge of identifying with the poor and the hungry. That Rs. 5 billion figure, painstakingly compiled by the National Election Watch, a coalition of over 1200 civil society organizations working across India, covers 64 of the 79 ministers. The missing 15 are Rajya Sabha members whose updated assets are yet to be computed. True, these figures are skewed by the fact that the top five ministers alone are worth Rs. 2 billion. However, as the NEW points out, the rest are not destitute. In all, 47 of the 64 are ‘crorepatis’ (multimillionaires). And the remaining 15 won’t harm the score too much when their totals come in.
Together, they will preside over the destiny of, amongst others, 836 million Indians who “get by on less than Rs. 20 a day.” (National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector report, August 2007.) This challenge will unfold in a Lok Sabha (House of the People) where the average worth of an MP is Rs. 51 million. Again, this average too, is skewed by a chunk of about 60-70 MPs of the 543 whose asset worth is relatively very low. On the other hand, many have notched up large gains in wealth during their first term as MPs.
In a complex and layered verdict driven by many factors, one seems clear: most governments that stressed welfarist measures -- particularly cheap rice and employment -- gained in last month’s election results. This was regardless of which party was leading them -- Congress, BJP, BJD, DMK and others. Some of these measures may not have led to large numbers of people going out to vote for those governments. But they at least lowered hostility levels amongst voters in a hungry nation. As Dr. Madhura Swaminathan points out, the FAO’s data confirm that “no country in the world comes close to India in terms of the absolute number of people living in chronic hunger.”
The hungry have had it pretty bad. The rise in food prices over the last five years was extremely steep, one of our more adverse periods in decades. Between just 2004 and 2008, the price of rice rose by over 45 per cent and that of wheat by more than 60 per cent. Atta, edible oils, dals, milk and even salt saw rises of between 30 and 40 per cent. Lower or ‘near-zero inflation’ has seen no drop in food prices. That the media never saw hunger and cheap food as a major poll factor says more about the media than about the issue.
In Tamil Nadu, the ruling DMK provided 20 kilos of rice per family at Rs. 1 a kilo since September 2008. That too, for anyone with a ration card, without dividing people into Above Poverty Line (APL) or Below Poverty Line (BPL) groups. Tamil Nadu had already been providing rice at Rs. 2 a kilo for some years. It also took the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) seriously. The state government gained on both counts.
In Andhra Pradesh, as in Tamil Nadu, the Congress government of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) was helped by the presence of a third party -- Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam -- which drew a lot of anti-Congress votes, crippling the rival Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Chandrababu Naidu. But YSR’s was also a government which in its first year in power restored hundreds of thousands of cancelled BPL cards and issued hundreds of thousands of new ones. In nine years, Chandrababu Naidu’s government issued no BPL cards till just before the elections. That in a state where hunger and food have been huge issues even in urban areas. Andhra was where rice at Rs. 2 a kilo began in the early 1980s with Naidu’s father-in-law, then chief minister N.T. Rama Rao. NTR’s charisma was never in question - but rice at Rs. 2 a kilo helped, more than any other factor, to convert it into votes.
Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy in fact stole the TDP’s clothes when in April 2008 he brought back the Rs. 2 a kilo rice scheme -- a year before the national polls. This was at 4 kilos per person (or 20 kg per family of five). An earlier generation of Congress leaders had trashed NTR’s pet project as a “costly gimmick”. Reddy took a more sensible line and gained from it.
During Mr. Naidu’s years in power, so lavishly praised in the media for his “reforms,” the public were repeatedly hit by massive hikes in power charges, water rates, food prices and other costs. Even now He has not managed to live down his record or regain credibility.
His adversary ran a decent NREGS program. In backward Mahbubnagar district, distress migrations fell as many found work under the NREGS. This was at a time when food prices were biting, so much so that people in their 70s turned up at NREG sites for work, their Rs. 200 a month pensions blown away by the rise in food prices. Even on that front, though, the AP government earned some credit. When it assumed power, there were 1.8 million people in the state getting old-age, widow and disability pensions - a paltry Rs. 75 each. This was raised to Rs.500 for disabled people and Rs. 200 for the rest. Hardly enough - but a lot more than earlier. And the number of people getting these pensions rose four-fold to 7.2 million. The state also has one of the country’s better pension schemes for women.
In Orissa, Naveen Patnaik chief minister and leader of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) played his cards most effectively, gutting the BJP and corralling the Congress. But he also gained hugely from giving people cheap rice. In the burning hunger zones of Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput, 25 kilos of rice were offered to all families at Rs. 2 a kilo since mid-2008. In the rest of the state, this was restricted to Below Povert Line (BPL) families. The government also gave out 10 kilos of *free rice* to the poorest families in the KBK districts. This had a major impact in curbing starvation deaths in that region. Patnaik also increased the numbers of those coming under pension schemes - and housing projects for the poor – quite significantly. (At the same time, he implemented the Sixth Pay commission before the polls, sewing up the middle classes as well).
Sure, these were not the only issues on which people voted, but they played a big role (In the case of YSR and Patnaik, there was another factor that helped this along. The positive measures in both states were present and visible. The negatives -- and they are explosive, like massive human displacement, SEZs, dangerous mining projects -- are in the pipeline, as disasters waiting to happen but which will take two or three years to do so. Unless, of course, those policies change.)
In Chattisgarh, however repugnant the ways of that government in many spheres, Chief Minister Raman Singh took a personal interest in declaring 35 kilograms per family at Rs. 3 a kg. His government then unilaterally “increased” the number of people below the poverty line to almost 15 million -- in a population of 20.8 million (2001 census). That is, close to 70 per cent of the population were ‘declared’ BPL. This was done several months before the 2008 assembly elections. It helped the government in both state and national polls.
The Left Front in West Bengal failed on both fronts. The state saw rioting at ration shops last year as the central government quite deliberately cut allocations of grain sharply. Yet Bengal, which tops the states in rice production (itself an achievement of Left rule), moved towards provision of cheaper rice only early this year. Too reluctantly and too late. Its performance in the NREGS too, was very poor. So hunger was also a factor in the rout of a Left Front far more focused on industrialization in the past few years.
So what should those in power read into the poll results? That they have a mandate for more liberalization, privatization, high prices and other such “reforms?” Or that the price of rice could be the price of power? That jobs and security are vital? Food prices and cheap rice are crucial, though not the sole issues. Governments cannot bank on such moves already made to bring them perpetual gains. But the whole process is a step ahead and has raised the bar on public expectations. Sharp reversals could prove suicidal.

*P. Sainath* is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, where this piece appears, and is the author of *Everybody Loves a Good Drought.* He can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Pakistan will never Defeat the Taliban by Fatima Ahmed Yousafzai

By Fatima Ahmed yousafzai

A number of distracting explanations are being thrown around by the Pakistani intelligentsia to explain the violence perpetrated by the Taliban and the eventual military operations now underway in Malakand region. Most of these theories are self deceiving and dangerous distortions by vested interests which need to be put in the correct perspective. These are dangerous in the sense that they attempt to sweep the fundamental cause of the problem under the carpet and draw the attention away from the core issue of religious extremism and use of religion as tool for political exploitation to seek power over people and territory. For example some columnists in the mainstream Pakistani media are trying to present the violence as a class struggle between the landowning families - khans as they are referred to, and the peasantry. It couldn’t be far from the truth. In fact, such a veiw exhibits a complete ignorance of the Pakhtun culture. First and foremost there is no powerful feudal class in Swat as is common in Southern Punjab, Sindh or Balochistan. Neither is there an oppressed peasantry on the scale as found in these areas, whose lives are controlled by the feudals waderas. Terming the Swat issue as a class struggle is thus a gross distortion of the facts.

Taliban’s movement in Swat was never a struggle for empowering the peasantry against the Khans, as some of these analysts would like us to believe. The Pakhtun society does not suffer from the same disease of class and feudalism as in other parts of the country or to that extant at least. In Swat and in fact in most Pakhtun areas, the distinction between Khan and peasant is not as pronounced as propagated. On the social level, no Pakhtun, be he a farmer, a vendor or a daily wage worker considers himself inferior or subservient to any Khan. Nor are Pakhtun land owners used to treating their peasantry in the same mold as in Sindh or Southern Punjab, where they can not even marry off their daughters without the feudal’s permission. In the Pakhtun society, socially at least, all are by and large equal irrespective of their material holding or bank balance. This leads us to the question-why is this notion of a class struggle being created? One of the most probable motive seems to be a cover-up. This notion of a Khan vs Peasant in Swat is being created by the establishment on purpose to cover up its finger prints in the process of the rise of the Taliban in Swat. This is obvious from the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who suffered and are still suffering as a result of the Taliban violence are the working class and peasantry. The worst affectees of Taliban’s terror are mostly the poorest of the poor- be it those who were murdered or terrorized, be it the destruction of infrastructure or pillaging of property, overrunning business or burning schools. In the process some Landowning families were targeted too, for example the family of Afzal khan Lala was particularly targeted and suffered greatly, but for an entirely different reason. They were the prime targets of the Taliban terrorists because they have always been in the forefront of resistance against religious extremism and use of religion as a political tool in the area.

Another theory that is being spread around is that the Swati Taliban are fake. There are American and Indian agents fighting alongside the Taliban. That American, Israeli and Indian intelligence agencies are deeply involved in supporting the militants fighting in Malakand. This is another hypocritical assertion because these people in the very same breath glorify the Afghan Taliban as real heroes because they are fighting against the US imperialism and afghan forces west of the Durand Line. This is simply untenable, because Afghanistan has a legitimate and elected government almost as good (or bad) as Pakistan. The presence of US and NATO forces there is sanctioned by the United Nations with the consensus of the government of Afghanistan and even Government of Pakistan was part of the Bonn process in 2002. Besides, terrorists who slit throats, kill innocent people, burn schools and destroy peoples lives anywhere are terrorists - whether they are east of the Durand Line or west of it. Off course, one can not refute out rightly, the possibility of external support to the Taliban in Malakand, however that is a catalyst and not the primary cause of the extremist violence in the region. After all, Sufi Mohammad was protected form the wrath of the local population of Malakand by putting him in jail, on his return from Afghanistan in 2002 after he (mis)led hundreds of young people to Jihad and death alongside the Taliban. He was then presented as a savior in front of the people of Malakand in 2009, and astonishingly, has again disappeared from the scene after the military operation started there. It is not unlikely that after another few years, Sufi Mohammad reappears in another stunt as a mediator. Similarly, Fazlullah, Muslim Khan, Faqir Mohammad, Mangal Bagh and scores of others have grown to their present positions right under the nose of the Government and its intelligence agencies. That is why the majority of people consider Sufi Mohammad and his clique as proxies of the intelligence agencies rather than religious people fighting for Islam. The same example can also be quoted to refute the assertion that the Pakistani Taliban are any different from those fighting in Afghanistan. After all, as most people would say, Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah, Muslim khan, Shah Dowran and the like have grown to become the alligators that they are today, under the patronage of the intelligence agencies just like Mullah Omer and company.

The fact of the matter is, that the Taliban and in fact all religious extremism is the product of two factors deeply entwined with the Pakistani state. First, the ideological dependence of the Pakistan on religion in the absence of any other rational social contract or consensus between the various nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups and classes which make up this country. Not having any other uniting factor, religion is the only glue that holds Pakistan together. If this glue is too thin, the bonds of the federation will dilute and the federating units representing various nationalities and groups will tear away. On the other hand, if it is too thick, it will result in use of religion as a tool in the hands of all those with vested interests. This is clearly manifested by the attempt of Ziaul Haq and subsequent governments to Islamize Pakistan to cement their own political power, the results of which we are witnessing today. Creating a correct balance has never been easy, or even possible because the Mullah will always used this weakness to hold the state and its citizens hostage by raising the slogan of “Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia- La Ilaha Ilu Allah” and raising the boggy of Islam under attack. The same slogans were used back in the 80s to take advantage of the Communist threat in Afghanistan as are being used today to describe the US and Zionist threat. The purpose, however, has invariably always been to get political power using religion. We may accept it or not, but even Pakistan’s creation was based on this exploitation of religion for political purpose. Pakistan was supposed to be for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent, yet a vast majority of Muslims living in Indian subcontinent couldn't even hope to be part of it. The remaining, particularly those making part of Pakistan today were not even affected by what was happening in the subcontinent then and did not come to support its creation till the very last moment. This exploitation of religion by the sub-continent muslim elite to achieve political power notwithstanding, the same elite did not hesitate to throw the cloak of religion away when it opted to kill more than 300000 Bengali muslims to prevent an unstoppable division of the country - with no remorse.

Second and more importantly, the Pakistani State has always used religion as a tool to pursue its strategic interests even in its external relations. In the 70s and 80s, Pakistan used religious extremism as a tool to pursue its intrests in Afghanistan, at the behest of the US. They ensuing war and civil strife which continues till today has killed more than 3 million muslim Afghans. Millions were wounded and maimed, their homes and villages were destroyed, their towns and cities turned into rubble and their country ruined - all in the name of Islam. This destruction of another Muslim country did not pose any religious, ethical or moral challenge to those claiming to fight for the glory of Islam. The faulty and misperceived notion of seeking strategic depth and fear of a nationalist Pashtun movement demanding their due rights in the federation of Pakistan was at the root of this war waged by Pakistan in connivance with the West and Saudi Arabia. This use of religious extremism to fight off communism for the West and seeking strategic depth for itself, culminated in the creation of Taliban. The ultimate aim to control Afghanistan resulted in giving ground to the Arab extremists of AlQaeeda to convert into a terrorist colony. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the Arab extremists had a different and much wider agenda and hence came the 9/11.

The story does not end here. Pakistan had by then been engulfed so deep in religious extremism that there was no turning back, despite the decision to disown the Taliban in Afghanistan as a consequence of US pressure. The use of religion as a tool to get to power and use of religious extremism as a policy tool , courtesy Zia-ul-haq, has seeped into every institution and in fact the psyche of the nation. That is why we see that the state has been held a hostage by these extremist elements in various shapes, Taliban, AlQaeeda and a variety of Jihadi and sectarian organizations. The Swat Taliban are just a manifestation of these phenomena. On the strategic level, despite the reversal of its policy in Afghanistan and unraveling of its strategic depth folly, the state is still in a state of confusion whether Taliban are an asset or a liability. They haven’t completely disowned the Taliban assets in the hope that they can bleed the US and NATO into submission by using the proxy and eventually force their exit from Afghanistan. The dream of getting back Afghanistan as a colony has yet to die.

Another factor is that in the face of the overwhelming Indian superiority in the conventional military field and the existence of a nuclear deterrence, the only hope Pakistan has of getting a favorable deal in Kashmir anytime in future is to retain the jihadi card. The perceived aim is to force India into a compromise - a low intensity war below the conventional level but sustained enough to make it counterproductive for the Indians to maintain the status quo in Kashmir. And that is precisely why that on the one hand, the Pakistani intelligentsia and media are shouting hoarse to eliminate the Taliban in FATA and Malakand citing them as a threat to Pakistan itself, but on the other hand it allows the extremis ideologies to flourish. While on the one hand the State is using all tools of military power including Air Force jets,tanks, Special forces and gunship helicopters in Malakand with complete disregard for the miseries of millions of people, on the other hand it has turned a blind eye on Jummate-Dawa, Jaishe Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and scores of similar jihadi organisations.
The known Headquarters in Muredke, of the terrorist organisation Jummat-u-Daawa ( JuD), involved in the Mumbai attacks and declared a terrorist organisation by the UN, was shut down by hanging only a lock on its door by the local district police officer. But the entire population of Malakand and Swat is being subjected to the most lethal weaponry in the arsenal of Pakistan Military in pursuit of a few thousand militants. Isn’t it ironic that the known extremist Maulana Aziz of the Lal Masjid, who held the capital Islamabad hostage for weeks, confessed to having trained suicide bombers, forced the state to launch a military operation which resulted in the killing of hundreds of innocent children has been set free to return as a hero to the same mosque, while hundreds of soldiers, and civilians are forced into death and disaster by fighting in Malakand against the same religious extremists. Maulana Aziz was arrested red handed while escaping from Lal Masjid. His acts of terror were telecast live to the whole nation and there is no lack of evidence against him -yet he roams free to recruit more extremists, brainwash more children and create more hatred in the name of Islam. All this in the belief that it will be an asset in the long term,while in Malakand and FATA, bloody operations have been launched for years on the plea of killing militants.

The biggest rationale for all this and a very pragmatic one is that the killing of Taliban in Malakand and FATA bring more and more dollars, thus Pakistan must appear to be doing something from time to time, while retaining the strings to raise or lower the level of violence as it seems fit. This is the duplicity which suggests that Pakistan can never get rid of religious extremism. No wonder then, that it is the third operation in Swat alone in the last two years, yet the the centre of gravity of the Taliban - its central leadership like Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah, Muslim Khan, Shah Dowran etc have never been targeted, just like FATA where Baitullah Mahsud, Maulavi Faqir, Haji Mangal Bagh etc roam free despite a number of military operations. As far as the killing and maiming of thousands of civilians and displacement of more than 3 million people of the region is concerned - NEVER MIND, THEY ARE PASHTUNS.

Higher Education Is Stuck in the Middle Ages -- Will Universities Adapt or Die Off in Our Digital World? | | AlterNet

Higher Education Is Stuck in the Middle Ages -- Will Universities Adapt or Die Off in Our Digital World? | | AlterNet

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reflections by Comrade Fidel June 8, 2009 OBAMA’S SPEECH IN CAIRO On Thursday the 4th of June, at the Islamic University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Obama

Reflections by Comrade Fidel
June 8, 2009


On Thursday the 4th of June, at the Islamic University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Obama gave a speech of special interest to those of us who are closely following his political actions given the enormous might of the superpower he leads. I cite his very own words to indicate what I think are the basic ideas he expressed, thus summarizing his speech to save time. Not only do we have to know that he spoke but also what he said.

“We meet at a time of great tension between the United Status and Muslims around the World...”

“The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.

“…colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”
“Violent extremists have exploited these tensions …”

“…has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights..”

“I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect …”

“…they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

“…but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.

“As the Holy Quran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."

“I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith..”

“It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment”.

“…And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, …”

“And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

“…America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

“The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, …”

“Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people..”

“When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk.”

“When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations.”

“…any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

“In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.”

“…we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women and children.”

“…there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11.”

“The victims were innocent men, women and children from America …”

“…Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.”

“The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the Holy Quran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

“Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.”

“…I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”

“Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.

“I have made it clear to the Iraqi people — (applause) — I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.

“Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August.”

“…remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012.”

“Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country.”

“…in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.”

“I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.”

“…America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law”

“The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.”
“America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable.”
“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation.”

“Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.”

“So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

“…two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.”

“It's easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.”

“…if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.”

“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

“. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.”

“Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.”

“…Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

“This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

“And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.”

“Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

“The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.”

“The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.”

“In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.”

“Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.”

“Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.”

“I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.”

“I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.”

“…any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

In these three first topics of his speech we find the basic objective of his trip to that Islamic University of Egypt. One cannot blame the new president of the United States for the situation created in the Middle East. It is obvious that he wants to find an exit from the colossal mess created there by his predecessors and by the very development of events over the last 100 years.

Not even Obama could imagine when he was working in the black communities of Chicago that the terrible effects of a financial crisis would combine with the factors that made his election as president in a strongly racist society possible.

He takes office at an exceptionally complex time for his country and the world. He is trying to resolve problems that he perhaps considers to be simpler than they really are. Centuries of colonial and capitalist exploitation have given way to a world where a handful of overdeveloped rich countries coexist with another handful of immensely poor countries that provide raw materials and labor force. If you add China and India, two truly emerging nations, the struggle for natural resources and markets make up an entirely new situation on the planet where human survival itself has yet to be solved.

Obama’s African roots, his humble background and his amazing ascent awaken hope in many who like shipwreck victims try to hold on to a piece of wood in the middle of the storm.

His statement that “any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail” is correct; or when he declares that “people of all faiths reject the killing of innocent men, women and children” or when he reaffirms to the world his opposition to the use of torture. Generally speaking, several of his abovementioned statements are theoretically correct; he clearly perceives the need for all countries, with no exceptions of course, to give up nuclear weapons. Well-known and influential personalities in the US see this as a great danger, as technology and science generalize access to radioactive material and ways of using it, even in small amounts.

It is still early to pass judgment on his degree of commitment to the ideas he presents, and up to which point he stands firm in sustaining, for example, the proposal of looking for a peace agreement built on fair bases, with guarantees for all the states in the Middle East.

The current president’s main difficulty lies in the fact that the principles he is advocating contradict the policy the superpower has pursued for almost seven decades, from the end of the last battles of World War II in August of 1945. I put aside at this moment the aggressive and expansionist policy it applied on the peoples of Latin America, especially Cuba, when it was still far from being the most powerful nation in the world.

Each one of the norms advocated by Obama in Cairo contradicts the interventions and the wars promoted by the United States. The first of them was the famous Cold War which he mentions in his speech, unleashed by the government of his country. Ideological differences with the USSR do not justify the hostility towards that state which contributed more than 25 million lives in the war against Nazism. Obama would not be remembering in these days the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the liberation of Europe if it were not for the blood of the Soviet troops. Those who freed the survivors of the famous Osviecim concentration camp were Soviet army soldiers. The world was unaware of what was happening there even though quite a few among Western official circles knew the facts. How millions of Jewish children, women and old people were atrociously murdered, and millions of Russian children, women and old people lost their lives as a result of the brutal Nazi invasion in a quest for living space. The West granted concessions to Hitler and conspired to launch him and they finally pushed him to occupy and colonize Slavic lands. During World War II, the Soviets were US allies, not enemies.

They dropped and tested the effects of two nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two defenseless cities. Those who perished there were mainly Japanese children, women and old people.

If one were to analyze the wars promoted, supported or waged by the United States in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, among the millions of people who died, many were children, women and old people.

The colonial wars of France and Portugal after W.W. II had the support of the United States; the coups and interventions in Central America, Panama, Santo Domingo, Grenada, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina were all promoted and supported by the United States.

Israel was not a nuclear power. The creation of a state in territory from which the Jews were driven into an exodus by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago was supported in good faith by the USSR as well as other countries in the world. At the triumph of the Cuban Revolution we had relations with that state for more than a decade until its wars of conquest over the Palestinians and other Arab peoples led us to severe them. Total respect for religion and Jewish religious activities has been maintained without any sort of interruption.

The US never opposed Israeli conquest of Arab territories, nor did it protest the terrorist methods used against the Palestinians. On the contrary, it created a nuclear power there, one of the most advanced in the world, in the heart of Arab and Muslim territory, creating in the Middle East one of the planet’s most dangerous places.

The superpower also used Israel to supply nuclear weapons to the armies of apartheid in South Africa, to be used against Cuban troops which alongside Angolan and Namibian forces were defending the Peoples’ Republic of Angola. These are fairly recent events which the current US president surely knows about. Thus we are not foreign to the aggression and the danger the Israeli nuclear potential represents for peace.

After the three initial points of his speech in Cairo, Obama starts philosophizing and lecturing about US foreign policy:

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy”, he said.

“So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other.”

“America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.”

“But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; …”

“These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”

“The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.”
“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance … I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.”

“Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith.”

“…fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.”

“…it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility toward any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”

“I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”

“…the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”

“I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.”

“The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities.”

“…invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.”

“…we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes …”

“That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

“It's easier to start wars than to end them.

“that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us

“We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

“The Holy Quran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.) The people of the world can live together in peace.”

As you can see, tackling the fourth topic in his speech at Al-Azhar University Obama stumbles into a contradiction. After beginning his words with a maxim as is his custom, stating that:

“No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other”, a principle in the Charter of the United Nations as a fundamental element of international law, he immediately contradicts himself with a declaration of faith that turns the United States into the supreme judge over democratic values and human rights.

Then he refers to subjects related to economic development and equal opportunities. He makes promises to the Arab world; he points our advantages and contradictions. It would really appear to be a public relations campaign carried out by the United States with the Muslim countries; in any case, this is better than threatening to destroy them with bombs.

At the end of the speech there is quite a mix of subjects.

If one takes into account the length of the speech, without using paper, the number of lapses is negligible as compared with his predecessor who used to make a mistake in every paragraph. He is a very good communicator.

I tend to observe historical, political and religious ceremonies with interest.

This one at Al-Azhar University seemed to be to be an unreal scene. Not even Pope Benedict XVI had declared such ecumenical phrases as Obama did. For a second I imagined the pious Muslim, Catholic, Christian or Jew, or someone from any other religion, listening to the president in the spacious hall of Al-Azhar University. At a certain moment I couldn’t tell whether he was in a Catholic cathedral, a Christian church, a mosque or a synagogue.

He left early for Germany. For three days he toured politically significant sites. He participated and spoke at commemorative ceremonies. He visited museums, received his family and dined at famous restaurants. He has an impressive working capacity. Some time will go by before we see anything like it again.

Fidel Castro Ruz
June 8, 2009
7:12 p.m.

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.