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Kashmir: A Collective Alienation

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Burhan-the prominent face of young, revived and local militancy in Kashmir valley, is no more today! Killed on July 8, by forces, which resulted in an unforeseen law and order problem and violent social unrest. For the majority of native Kashmiris’ he was an icon of unsuppressed youth demanding justice and adherence to freedom sentiment! Like the previous bloody uprisings of 2008 and 2010, the loss is, once again, huge as over fifty civilian killings resulted in the gory aftermath and hundreds of injured lie groaning in hospitals!

Burhan Muzaffar Wani – merely 22 years old – was in the prime of his youth and much more popular, especially in the southern belt of Kashmir, purely due to his being tech-savvy and having a wider popular support than many lesser known militant commanders in the past. The young boy was called the face of new and young militancy in Kashmir valley and became quite famous due to his liberal use of social media. Security apparatus and media called this social media using militant, the poster-boy of young militancy in Kashmir as he was considered the main recruiter and an attraction to lure young boys to militancy in the valley. The threat of increase in the local militancy still continues even after his death given the unrest, civilians killings, injures and a new wave of uprising in the valley, reacting violently to his death!

Situation from the Ground Zero

The situation on the ground is pathetic and mostly described as war like. While I had gone to the valley for a study on the Amarnath pilgrimage, I got stranded there due to the violent situation that constituted the explosive aftermath of Burhan’s killing. Being a local I interacted with friends and acquaintances around regarding the prevailing situation of uncertainty following the killing. I was learning a new lesson with each uninhibited response; I was getting from ground zero. The highest state of mass alienation, routine killings, deep pessimism about the system and hopelessness with the government and political institution has become a reality. Also the sheer frustration of the masses and anger over the violent and unpredictable situation prevailing is alarming. Most importantly, the legitimising of the all-pervasive culture of violence in the valley is becoming a dangerous trend.

“If twenty more civilians die, Kashmir issue will reach some solution”, said an elderly man. Such thinking reflects that there is a section of society in Kashmir who thinks only violence can solve their issues and more the killings of civilians, more will be the impact. People perceive so because they have been witnessing only violence since the onset of the armed conflict since 1989.A culture of violence has inadvertently shaped up to the core and is being legitimised even by the common masses, for they feel only violence is the way to change the system. They know the history and failure of all other means.

Youth are seeing this as yet another big uprising after the 2010 violent agitation, as both significant and different given the different pattern of violence, intensity of civilian killings, people’s rebellion and violent protests, an undying commitment to resist the brute power and above all, the scale of unmanageable violence and senseless loss of lives and injures.

“I am thirty three years old who has witnessed 2008 unrest and then 2010 unrest and all the other such big and small incidents since 1990s, but this time the situation is different and more dangerous. The valley is burning.” says an Engineering student. The rampant killing spree by forces and oft repeated crisis mishandling and failure of crowed control management has added fuel to the fire. The separatist camp keeps extending the shut down duration and people keep following. Militants keep dying and people gather in thousands for their funerals.

Mass Alienation and No Lessons Learnt by Security Apparatus & State

Undoubtedly, the inevitable fall-out of Burhan’s killing is the huge unrest in itself after the 2008 and 2010 uprisings. How it led to such a violent turn, couldn’t even the establishment guess in time? Why they couldn’t foresee the consequences given past instances is, in itself, quite shocking! Is it again a mere case of crisis mishandling in terms of the lack of following SOPs by security apparatus or the design of the peoples’ protest itself that has made it so violent? Now there are also debates on the ill-equipped and ill-trained forces which brave such protests with least protection available. Why this incident resulted in so many civilian deaths, even time will not tell because even the previous unrests are yet to be probed properly and nothing tangible has come out so far. The masses maintain that hardly anybody has been persecuted for civilian killings till date, be it any uprising in the past. Was killing the Hizb Commander a mistake or a pre-mediated/mature and well thought out strategy that proved too expensive? Perhaps yes. Could he have been captured alive to avoid the crisis or was it really so impossible? Why such an outpouring of mass anger and why so much of growing popular support for militancy in the valley even today? Is this so called movement or anger against the nation growing and why is the reach out to the vulnerable, not being made? Why Kashmiris support militancy and why so much of mass participation and sloganeering on militants’ funerals, are also significant issues that remain to be pondered over?

While the Centre maintains that such kind of reality is because of the vested interests that motivate youth, fuel anger or radicalise them, but the story from the ground seems altogether different! No one is fuelling anger as everyone is already angry and those who could have fuelled it further, are already under house arrest. People are forced to starve inside their homes due to curfew, communication blockade continues without any break and pellets and bullets have wreaked havoc everywhere. Are such acts the sign of the mass alienation that has increased multifold due to bad governance, which New Delhi denies outright or is it again the sentiment of secession from India that never dies down, the stories on the ground are a mixed bag of all this ? New Delhi cannot and should not brush aside every such situation as merely a law and order problem and as a solution announce economic packages or treat unemployment as responsible for the mess but approach youth with a political discourse. Where will it lead us to and where will it end, nobody knows! Why nobody knows because nobody not even the State government is clear about the methods of peace building on the ground but feels the pain only when it reaches the optimum. Are Kashmiri youth really so radically alienated that even death is not a big deal now? Perhaps yes. Because they continue their protests even when they know they may die. The situation that prevails is the writing on the wall and must be taken seriously by the power corridors.

The Sentiment and the Peoples’ Resistance

A local told me that there is a sentiment which can never die down in the valley. There are even youths who want their sisters to marry a boy who is nothing but ‘Tehreek Pasand’ (Movement sympathiser).What has actually shaped such a mentality and mass perception, is a question surely worth pondering over, is it not? Who is doing such perception management in the valley? Analysts only call it Islamic radicalisation but I think it is beyond that. The problem is political and cannot be treated with such labelling time and again. A complete political alienation exists on the ground and no readiness to listen to such angry voices remains a reality.

“The shocking thing to see is the stone versus bullet again and the same civilian causalities. Does it mean people have lost the fear of death and prefer honour and dignity?” questions a businessman. The question that still remains to be answered satisfactorily, is the success of stone pelting as a practice among youth and what leads to such anger time and again, crisis mishandling, use of much force or what? Why hasn’t been stone pelting been curbed so far? Who has failed and who will take responsibility for such a mess time and again? Are stones still the weapon of the weak and pellets/bullets the answer to such anger?

“Even rifles are snatched and to the worst police personnel are kidnapped by protesters. The situation has crossed all limits. People hate local police even a cop was pushed in Jhelum along with his vehicle resulting in his death. It cannot be worst than this. Has police failed local aspirations or is it facing the wrath of past mistakes?” asks a young chap musingly.

“The police feels caught between the devil and the deep sea, masses hate them and bosses push them against us”, emphatically maintains a protester.

Why is the local police, that too highly ill equipped, pitted against the angry mobs every day? Are they really trained to face such situations? I think no.

“The new wave of anger against the system is on its full flair”, says a medical student. Everyone is angry as everyone feels caged, frustrated due to shut downs and blockades, etc.

“The future of Kashmir whatever it may be, but this uprising (he calls it Ragda-3) is the severe one and may turn decisive” says a history student”. Will the state learn some lessons out of such repeated violence? Nobody is sure. There is a sentiment, a secessionist sentiment and an enemy perception that is not going to die down without a proper reach out and a political solution.

Burhan Backlash and the Culture of Violence

Burhans’s death led to many more deaths (over forty five and thousands injured) for his death is treated as a major setback to militancy in Kashmir and a big success for the forces. But the question as much debated in media now is that whether the new recruitment will increase or decrease due to this killing. If the poster boy was killed who will recruit now, some say, the dead Burhan will recruit, for emotion and inspiration may motivate the youth now. Sloganeering is everywhere, some raise pro-freedom slogans, some eulogise Pakistan while some attach religion via religious slogans to the Kashmir’s political issue. Amid this all, killings are routine these days and the people’s sympathy seems to be increasing and violence permanently becoming a part of culture as rightly guessed by eminent sociologist Prof. Dipankar Gupta in one of his recent articles on Kashmir.

“State has power and absolute power this time which is being used against us, we are still not afraid.” preaches a sloganeer defiantly during a protest. The question remains why is the power not used wisely and under control?

As a social analyst and being an insider, one can see a different turn now. People, especially those well educated, feel such killings are a mistake on the part of security forces as far as the bloody fallouts are concerned and therefore calling such killings a big breakthrough or major success, is a folly. State is not enough, public is sensitive and killings are still not replaced with arrests leading to such expensive fallouts. Should forces prefer arrests to encounters, remains a significant debate for the future.

The situation in the valley is obviously tense and everyone is scared. People don’t necessarily fear the security forces but fellow people for everyone has turned a rebel and violence against each other is almost legitimised due to sentiment, emotions and anger. I myself had to rush to the airport for the national capital at 2 am in the night just to escape agitating masses and stone pelting during the day time.

Of Pellets, Bullets and Political Appeals of Peace

Despite the appeals of maintaining peace by Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister and the CM, peace is yet to return to the valley that always keeps waiting for a tipping point to burn. Will only peace appeals do when so much needs to be done on the ground in every perspective be they Human Rights concern, political space, dialogue and consultation with youth, development and empowerment, etc, remains a big question? Frankly speaking, youth in Kashmir today don’t expect any such initiative from the State that can address the real problem on the ground. The State reacts with pellets, bullets and later with some appeals. The conundrum continues and bloodshed is the routine.

The Way Forward

For a perpetual peace building in Kashmir, even before engaging with the angry masses, State primarily needs to engage with those who know and understand Kashmir well from a strategy, administration and security perspective. State needs consultations with those who understand Kashmir well from its economic, security, social, political and crisis perspective. First and foremost the Centre should withdraw AFSPA at least on experimental basis in less vulnerable regions to make forces more accountable and give a sense of justice to the alienated people.

What will and who will stop this routine bloodshed in the valley, should be the concern of the central government at the moment as the State government, like the past governments, has failed to deliver so far? Therefore, who will speak to seething masses and build peace in the valley, I think the Centre should leave this job to the charismatic and worthy Governor of the State? The man who addressed thousands of people’s problems, that too in a shorter span of time during governor’s rule in the state and reached out to the flood affected Srinagar masses without any publicity and complications besides scores of other people, friendly and developmental works. Who has the capacity to bridge the hateful gap between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, I think only Mr Vohra is capable of that given his governance style and expertise. Who will restore peace and justice by delivering on the Human Rights abuse of the past, I think the Centre should form an expert commission on the subject so that the alienated masses feel that justice will be done and culprits will be brought to book eventually! Who will value peoples’ lives and who will stop this killing spree, I think the Centre needs the consultation of those who have served in Kashmir in uniform and those who understand the reality on the ground. The Centre should assign this job to the eminent defence stalwarts like Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, who introduced the ‘Hearts Doctrine’ in the valley and achieved much on goodwill and peace building front during his short tenure as Corps Commander in the valley. For his people friendly soldering he began to be called as the ‘Peoples General’ and therefore his recommendations should be valued and practiced on the ground to avoid such a massive collateral damage time and again.

The Centre has to ponder over it and think of a credible administration in Kashmir after all for how long will the reality be distorted or painted as a mere proxy war by Pakistan, law and order problem, unemployment as the only culprit, paid stone throwing, denying leadership of Hurriyat sections, Islamic radicalisation, etc,. Also Healing Touch theory should be practised on the ground not by those who only preach it but by the Centre itself and I am quite sure that the eminent Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, is quite capable of that.

Epilogue

After Wani’s killing, the Hizb (PoK based Militant outfit) appointed a new commander to continue what was being done. What does it indicate? Simply that this is not the end of the show, also reflected by the Pakistani PM’s statement on Kashmir. May be tomorrow the new Commander dies and the state will be back square one. Is the State ready for the future now or learning any lessons from the mess the state is in at the moment? I guess no. Given the magnititude of chaos and violence in the valley, I think making peace has fewer stakeholders than those producing more and more violence. We urgently need a permanent peace building strategy and solutions for Kashmir, not just some statements of sorrow and some appeals on television when Kashmir boils time and again.

The death of the poster boy after all does not mean the end of the violent story and it has already affected the fragile normalcy of the valley. The need of the hour is to address the issue politically for long lasting peace in the region and reaching out to the angry and alienated public, besides the separatist and mainstream leadership to build some peace on the ground. Let us see if Home Minister’s July 23 Kashmir visit makes some difference when separatists and other key stake holders are not meeting him and described his visit as a time buying act.

The article first appeared in Kashmir Times

South Asia

The failure of the great games in Afghanistan from the 19th century to the present day

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Whenever great powers have tried to make Afghanistan a colony, they have always been defeated. British imperialism and its “civilising mission” towards backward (and therefore terrorist) populations – a mission equal to that of the time when Great Britain established itself as the first drug pusher to the Chinese Empire with the two opium wars of 1839-1842; 1856-1860: an action that was terrorist at the best.

The Russian Empire and its exporting the orthodox faith and the values of the Tsar towards the barbaric (and therefore terrorist) Afghans. The Soviet Union and its attempt to impose secularisation on Muslim (and therefore terrorist) Afghans in the period 1979-1991. The United States of America that thought it could create parties, democracy, Coke, miniskirts, as well as gambling and pleasure houses by bombing the Afghan terrorists tout-court.

In this article I will try to explain why Afghanistan won 4-0, and in 1919 – thanks to its rulers’ wise skills – was one of the only six actual independent Asian States (Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen), so that at least the barroom experts – who, by their nature, believe that History is just a fairy tale like that of Cinderella and stepmother with evil sisters – reflect on the nonsense we read and hear every day in the press and in the media.

In his book I luoghi della Storia (Rizzoli, Milan 2000), former Ambassador Sergio Romano wrote on page 196: “The Afghans spent a good part of the nineteenth century playing a diplomatic and military game with the great powers – the so-called “Great Game” – the main rule of which was to use the Russians against the Brits and the Brits against the Russians”.

In the days when geopolitics was a forbidden subject and the word was forbidden, in the history textbooks of secondary schools it seemed that the United States of America and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen from the sky as large as they were on the atlases. I still remember that in the dialogues between professors and high school students, it was stated that the two powers could not be called colonial, since they had something messianic and redeeming in themselves (therefore anti-terrorist).

It was only thanks to western movies that the young people of the time understood how the thirteen Lutheran colonies had extended westwards into lands that we were led to believe had been inhabited by savage villains to be exterminated (hence terrorists) and by uncivilised Spaniards, as Catholics, to be defeated. Moreover, we did not dare to study Russia’s expansion eastwards and southwards, at the risk that the high school students – unprepared, pure and enthusiastic – would understand that the homeland of socialism had no different assumptions from all other imperialisms.

Sometimes the students heard about the great game or, in Russian, the tournament of shadows (turniry teney). What was the great game? Today it is mostly remembered as the epic of freedom of the unconquered Afghans, but in reality its solution meant the alliance between Russia and Great Britain, which lasted at least until the eve of the Cold War. A key position that is sometimes too overlooked, and not only in scientific and classical textbooks, but also in many essays by self-proclaimed experts.

British aversion to the Russian Empire – apart from the “necessary” anti-Napoleonic alliances in the Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Coalitions – dated back to the 17th century and worsened considerably in the 19th century. Although Russian exports of grain, natural fibres and other agricultural crops were made to Great Britain – because the Russian landowners were well disposed to good relations with the Brits in order to better market those products abroad – there were no political improvements. The opposition came more from Great Britain than from Russia.

Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1825-55) – in the late 1830s, during his trip to Great Britain in 1842, and later in 1850-52, i.e. just before the Crimean War (1853-56) – often tried to bring about normalisation, but due to British suspicions and doubts (the Russians were considered to be terrorists) this did not occur.

What worried the Foreign Office – created in March 1782 – was Russia’s fast march eastwards, southwards and south-westwards. Great Britain could feel Russian breath on it from the three sides of India. The Russian goals with regard to Turkey, the successes in Trancaucasia and the Persian goals, not to mention the colonisation of Central Asia, initiated by the aforementioned Tsar Nicholas I, and conducted vigorously by his successor Alexander II (1818-1855-81), were – for Her Britannic Majesty’s diplomats and generals – a blatant and threatening intimidation of India’s “pearl”.

In the north-west of the Indian subcontinent the British possessions bordered on the Thar desert and on Sindh (the Indus River delta) which constituted a Muslim State under leaders residing at Haidarābād, conquered by the Brits in 1843. To the north-east of Sindh, the Punjab region had been amalgamated into a strong State by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji (1780-1801-39) who, as a simple Governor of Lahore (Lâhau) on behalf of the Afghan Emir, Zaman Shah Durrani (1770-93-1800-†44), had succeeded not only in becoming independent, but also in extending his power over Kashmir and Pīshāwar, creating the Sikh Empire in 1801, which was overthrown by Great Britain during the I (1845-46) and II (1848-49) Anglo-Sikh wars; the region became what is known as the Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the North-West Frontier Province).

Given the British expansion into the neighbouring States of Afghanistan and Persia, Russia’s influence was trying to creep in; hence the Brits were paying close attention to what was happening on the border of the great Northern “neighbour”.

Russia had long been aiming to make its way to India through Western Turkestan, but that steppe region was inhabited by the Kyrgyz in the north-east and the Turks (Turkmen) in the south-west.

After unsuccessful attempts at peaceful penetration, the Russian Governor of Orenburg, Gen. Vasilij Alekseevič Perovskij (1794-1857), prepared an expedition against Chiva: it involved crossing about a thousand kilometres of desert and was thought to be easier to make during the winter. The expedition left from Orenburg in November 1839, but the cold killed so many men and camels that the Commander had to give up the venture and turn back (spring 1840). For a long time, the Russians did not attempt any more military infiltrations there.

In Persia, instead, Russian influence was strongly felt: Tsar Alexander II pushed the Shah, Naser al-Din Qajar (1831-48-96), to undertake an enterprise against the city of Herāt (which dominated the passage from Persia and Western Turkestan into India): it had detached itself from Afghanistan and had been a separate State since 1824. The Persian expedition began in the autumn of 1837: Herāt resisted strenuously, so much so that in the summer of 1838 the Shah had to renounce the siege and accept Britain’s mediation for peace with the sovereign of that city. That diplomatic move was therefore also detrimental to the influence of St. Petersburg. Even the first relations established by Russia with the Emir of Afghanistan did not lead to any result.

In those years, Russia was busy quelling the insurrections of the mountain populations in the Caucasus, where the exploits of the alleged Italian sheikh, Mansur Ushurma (Giambattista Boetti, 1743-98), in the service of the Chechen cause, still echoed.

Through two treaties concluded with Persia (1828) and Turkey (1829), Russia had become the master of the region; however, it found an obstinate resistance from the local populations that still persists today.

The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) was one of the most important military conflicts of the great game and one of the worst British defeats in the region. The Brits had started an expedition to Afghanistan to overthrow Emir Dost Mohammad (1793-1826-39, 42-63), the first of the Barakzai dynasty, and replace him with the last of the Durrani dynasty, Ayub Shah (17??-1819-23, †37), who had been dethroned in 1823, but he renounced. Not wanting to cross the Sikh country in order not to arouse mistrust among the Sikhs, the British entered Baluchistan, occupied the capital (Qalat), then penetrated into Afghanistan and advanced without encountering serious resistance as far as Kabul, where on August 7, 1839 they installed their own puppet, Shuja Shah (1785-1842), formerly Emir from 1803 to 1809.

Dost Mohammad was caught and sent to Calcutta. A the beginning of 1841, however, one of his sons – Sher Ali – aroused the Afghans’ rebellion. The military commander, Gen. William George Keith Elphinstone (b. 1782), got permission to leave with 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 non-combatants to return to India. In the mountain passes near Kabul, however, the expedition was taken by surprise and annihilated (January 1842). The commander died as prisoner of the Afghans (on April 23).

The Brits obviously wanted revenge: they sent other troops that, in September of the same year, reconquered Kabul: this time the Brits – intimidated – did not deem it advisable to remain there. Convinced they had reaffirmed a certain prestige, they withdrew and, since the Emir they protected had died on April 5, 1842, they agreed – helplessly – to Dost Mohammad’s return to the throne. He conquered Herāt forever for Afghanistan.

Russia did not just stand by and watch and asserted its power in the Far East. In the years 1854-58 – despite its engagement in the Crimean war: the first real act of the great game, as Britain had to defend the Ottoman Empire from Sarmatian aspirations of conquest – it had established, with a series of expeditions, its jurisdiction over the province of Amur, through the Treaty of Aigun – labelled as the unequal treaty as it was imposed on China – on May 28, 1858. Shortly afterwards the fleet arrived at Tien-Tsin (Tianjin), forced China into another treaty on June 26-27, thus obtaining the opening of ports for trade, and the permanence of a Russian embassy in Peking. Moreover, in Central Asia, Russia renewed its attempts to advance against the khanates of Buchara and Kokand (Qo’qon), and had once again led the Shah of Persia, Mozaffar ad-Din Qajar (1853-96-1907), to try again the enterprise of Herāt (1856), which had caused again the British intervention (Anglo-Persian War, 1856-57) that ended with Persia’s recognition of the independence of the aforementioned city. The Anglo-Russian rivalry thus continued to be one of the essential problems of Central Asia, for the additional reason that Russia gradually expanded into West Turkestan, Buchara and Chiva between 1867 and 1873.

After the Russian conquests in West Turkestan, Dost Mohammad’ son and successor, Sher Ali (1825-63-66, 68-79), came under the influence of the neighbouring power, which was trying to penetrate the area to the detriment of Britain. On July 22, 1878 St Petersburg sent a mission. The Emir repelled a similar British mission at the Khyber Pass in September 1878, thus triggering the start of the war. The Brits soon opened hostilities, invading the country with 40,000 soldiers

 from three different points.

The Emir went into exile in Mazār-i-Sharīf, leaving his son Mohammad Yaqub (1849-79-80, †1914) as heir. He signed the Treaty of Gandamak on May 26, 1879 to prevent a British invasion of the rest of the country.

Once the British First Resident, the Italian Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (b. 1841) went to Kabul, he was assassinated there on September 3, 1879. British troops organised a second expedition and occupied the capital. They did not trust the Emir and raised a nephew of Dost Mohammed, Abdur Rahman (1840/44-80-1901), to power on May 31, 1880. He pledged to have no political relations except with Britain.

The former Emir, Mohammad Yaqub, took up arms and severely defeated the Brits at Maiwand on July 27, 1880, with the help of the Afghan heroine Malalai Anaa (1861-80), who rallied the Pashtun troops against the attackers. On September 1 of the same year Mohammad Yaqub was defeated and put to flight by Gen. Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) in the Battle of Kandahâr, which ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

This brought Afghanistan permanently under British influence, which was secured by the construction of a railway from the Indus River to the Afghan city of Kandahâr. Since the railway passed through Beluchistan, it was definitively annexed to British India. In 1880, Russia began the construction of the Transcaspian Railway, which alarmed the Brits who extended the section of their “railroad” to Herāt.

It was only with the accession to the throne of Imānullāh (1892-1919-29, †60), on February 28, 1919 (Shah from 1926), that Afghanistan took its foreign policy away from Great Britain through the Third Anglo-Afghan War (6 May-8 August 1919), by which the Afghans finally threw the Brits out of the picture (Treaty of Râwalpindî of August 8, 1919, amended on November 22, 1921).

As early as 1907, the Russian government had declared it considered Afghanistan to be outside its sphere of influence, and pledged not to send any agents there, as well as to consult the British government about its relations with that country.

Indeed, Britain soon gave up direct control of the country, given the fierce fighting spirit of its people, who had humiliated it many times, and contented itself with guarding and keeping the north-west Indian border under control.

In reality, the great game has never ended. As Spartacus Alfredo Puttini stated (La Russia di Putin sulla scacchiera, in “Eurasia”, A. IX, No. 1, January-March 2012, pp. 129-147), upon his coming to power Vladimir Putin found himself grappling with a difficult legacy. Gorbachev’s policy of katastroika had dealt a lethal blow to the Soviet and later Russian colossus.

Within a few years, Russia had embarked on a unilateral disarmament that led, at first, to its withdrawal from Afghanistan and then from Central and Eastern Europe. While the State was heading for collapse and the economy was being disrupted, it was the very periphery of the Soviet Union that was catching fire due to separatist movements promptly subsidised by those who – in the great game – replaced the Brits. Massive US aid to the heroic anti-Soviet patriots, who were later branded as terrorists.

In a short time the real collapse occurred and the ‘new’ Russia found itself geopolitically shrunken and morally and materially prostrated by the great looting made by the pro-Western oligarchs in the shadow of the Yeltsin Presidency.

To the west, the country had returned to the borders of the 17th century; to the south, it had lost Southern Caucasus and valuable Central Asia, where the new great game was soon to begin. In other words, the process of disruption would not stop, and would infect the Russian Federation itself: Chechnya had engaged in a furious war of secession that threatened to spread like wildfire to the whole of Northern Caucasus and, in the long run, called into question the very survival of the Russian State divided into autonomous entities.

This was followed by the phenomenon of “orangism” in 2003-2005 (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan): the various caricatures of oxymoronic “liberal” revolutions aimed at moving certain governments away from Russia’s influence.

Ultimately, the central power had been undermined on all sides by the policy of Yeltsin and his clan, aimed at granting extensive autonomy to the regions of the Federation. Public property, the glue of State authority and the instrument of its concrete activity to guide and orient the nation, had been sold off. Over time, Putin put things right, and the rest is condensed into the restoration choices of the plebiscitary vote in his favour.

In the end Afghanistan also saw the US failure, which I have examined in previous articles.

The Asian sense of freedom is summed up in the expulsion of foreign aggressors from their own homelands and territories. Someone should start to understand this.

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South Asia

The Post-US Withdrawal Afghanistan: India, China and the ‘English Diplomacy’

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The recent developments in Afghanistan, the impatient Tri-axis and the emphatic India at SCO, with the ‘English Diplomacy’ at display that tends to blunt the Chinese aggressiveness in South China Sea mark a new power interplay in the world politics. It also shows why the US went for AUKUS and how it wants to focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Afghanistan has turned out to be the most incandescent point of world politics today deflecting the eyes from the South China Sea and Gaza Strip. What is more startling is the indifferent attitude United States has shown to the other stakeholders in the war torn state. While Brexit appears to have created fissure in the European Union the AUKUS effects further marginalisation of France and India against the US-British and QUAD understandings. The vacuum that US have created in Afghanistan has invited several actors willing to expand their energy access to central Asia and Afghanistan provides an important bridge in between. The TAPI economics (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline) and huge Indian investments are endangered by the Afghan security question and make it imminent for India to stay in Afghanistan as a reckoning force.

The Taliban and the Troika

While the Russo-Chinese and Pakistani engagement with the Taliban’s takeover was visible the US exit has invited the wrath of other stakeholders like India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. India is significantly affected because of its huge investments of over 3 billion dollars over two decades in Afghanistan that would become target of the orthodox retrogressive Taliban regime. The government of India’s stand on Afghanistan is that an ‘Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years. India supports a united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan. India is deeply concerned about the increase in violence and targeted killings in Afghanistan. India has called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire’(MEA).

However, the takeover by Taliban that endangers India’s strategic and capital interests has made it pro-active in the state. Probably for the first time in Afghan history, India has shown aggressive tones against the militant government which may create problem for Kashmir in the longer run. The Pakistani air force’s engagement over the Panjashir assault by Taliban has unravelled the larger plans of destabilisation in South Asia.

In the meantime China has unequivocally expressed its willingness, as was expected to work with Taliban. The visit of Taliban delegation, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar who also heads the office of Taliban at Doha, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in Tianjin, on July 28, 2021. The visit followed the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Kureshi’s visit to Beijing and unravelled how the two states have been supporting the Talibani cause. Although, China has its own perceptions about Xinjiang and Mr. Wang even told the Taliban “to draw a line” between the group and terror organisations, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which has carried out attacks in Xinjiang. Russia too has shown interest in Taliban and it didn’t plan to evacuate its embassy at Kabul. Its foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said that Russia will carefully see how responsibly they (Taliban) govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions.

The little Indo-Russian engagements over Afghanistan have minimised the scope of cooperation over the decades now. Although, Russia has been trying to follow a balancing policy between India and Pakistan yet its leanings towards the latter is manifest from its recent policies. “The extent of Russia-Pakistan coordination broadened in 2016, as Russia, China, and Pakistan created a trilateral format to discuss stabilizing Afghanistan and counterterrorism strategy. In December 2016, Russia, China, and Pakistan held talks on combating Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), which were widely criticized in the U.S. for excluding the Afghan government.” (Ramani). The deliberate neglect of Afghan government and Indian role reveals the neo-Russian policy in South Asia that de-hyphenates India and Pakistan and sees Pakistan through the lens of BRI and at the cost of North-South Corridor. The Chinese and Russian belief that by supporting Taliban they will secure security for their disturbed territories and escape from terrorism appears to be unrealistic keeping in view the Taliban’s characteristics which are chameleon like i.e. political, organizational and jihadi at the same time looking for appropriate opportunities.

Is it the Post-Brexit Plan?

The Brexit ensures a better space for Britain; at least this is what Brits believe, in international politics following the future US overseas projects. However, it for sure annoys some of its serious allies with the new takes. The announcement of the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact, a historic security pact in the Asia-Pacific to contain China is an important step in this direction. The Brexit and the US-withdrawal seen together mark a shift in US policy perception of Asia that aims at Asia Pacific more as compared to Central Asia. It has not only betrayed India in Afghanistan but also France through AUKUS which sees an end to its multibillion dollar deal with Australia. France now shows a stronger commitment to support India in its moves against Taliban and Pakistan’s interventions.

President Macron recalled French ambassadors for consultations after the AUKUS meet that dropped France deliberately from the major maritime security deal. The French anguish is not about its absence in the deal by the Canberra, Washington and London but being an allied nation, its neglect in the secret deal. “The announcement ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) that France had signed with Australia in 2016 to build 12 conventional submarines. China meanwhile accused the three powers involved in the pact of having a “Cold War mentality”(Schofield 2021). It also reminds one of the Roosevelt’s efforts at truncating French arms in Asia, especially in Indo-China and the consequent sequence of betrayals by the US. AUKUS also symbolises the ‘English diplomacy’ of the English speaking states just like the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence alliance consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Started around 1946 the member countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. Recently there have been voices for taking India, Japan and South Korea also into its fold to strengthen the contain China job.

The Wildered QUAD

While the first ever in-person QUAD summit approaches near, the announcement of AUKUS shows haze that prevails over the US decision making. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga meet at the White House for the summit on September 24, 2021. This follows the virtual meet held in March 2021. How apposite it would be to declare a maritime deal at a time when the QUAD meet is about to take place with the same motives and plans, notwithstanding the fact that QUAD has a wider platform for discussion like climate change, cyberspace, pandemic and Indo-Pacific. Is there an uncertainty over the realisation of QUAD? However, AUKUS  unravels the US intentions of first line preferences and second line associates in its future projects that will further marginalise its allies like France, Germany and many other states in future.

SCO

At SCO meet at Dushanbe India has unequivocally announced its view of the situation that takes Taliban as a challenge to peace and development in Afghanistan and South Asia. Prime Minister Modi remarked that the first issue is that the change of authority in Afghanistan was not inclusive and this happened without negotiation. This raises questions on the prospects of recognition of the new system. Women, minorities and different groups have not been given due representation. He also insisted on the crucial role that UN can play in Afghanistan. India’s investment in the Iranian port of Chabahar and the International North-South Corridor along with TAPI are central to its argument on the recent developments in Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar had also remarked in July 2021 that the landlocked Central Asian countries can benefit immensely by connecting with the huge market of India and the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past and that the world must not let the new generation of Afghans down (Hindustan Times). The Indian message is clear and received huge support at Dushanbe and India is poised to play a greater role in Afghanistan, where the US and Russia have failed miserably.

The Internal Dynamics

The internal dynamics in Afghanistan presage a government by uncertainty in the coming months as Sirajudin Haqqani of Pak supported Haqqani network, captures Mulla Baradar, the man who settled the deal with US at Doha. It appears from the Pakistani backed government of Haqqani that Baradar has been dumped for his commitment for inclusive government expected to be pro-west against the Sino-Pakistan expectations. The US reluctance to remain engaged in the troubled region marks a shift in US foreign policy but the exclusion of its allies from Indo-Pacific plan are bound to bring new engagements in world power politics. While US dumped Afghans France and Israel appear as new hopes for Indian led moves against the undemocratic terrorist forces in Afghanistan.

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South Asia

Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions

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Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.

The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.

The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.

Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.

Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.

Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.

Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.

A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.

That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.

These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.

The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.

Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.

“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.

The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.

Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.

Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.

Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.

Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.

Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.

Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.

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