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Turkish President Erdogan’s India visit

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]urkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited India on an official two day trip from April 30 to May 1. President Erdogan embarked upon his India visit soon after he won the referendum to strengthen his presidency with more powers and he met Indian PM Narendra Modi on a variety of bilateral and multilateral issues. Both signed important bilateral agreements.

India and Turkey have to build on their many convergences and build mutual trust soon. This is possible at a time when both countries have very strong leaders and stable governments.

President Erdogan is the most popular Muslim leader advancing Islamic system that is opposed by all anti-Islamic forces globally. When Erdogan took up the Palestine issue, Israel, its close military ally, got wild as it does not allow any nation to breach the Zionist terror blockades meant to torture the Hamas Palestinians, and thus the “historic” bilateral ties have been strained badly.

PM Modi is in the mould of President Erdogan in terms of popularity and power. He has been Turkey’s prime minister for 12 years and now president for the last two-and-a-half years. This is his first foreign visit after scoring a comprehensive victory in a controversial referendum recently which gave him overwhelming powers and further cemented his place in the country’s power structure.

Besides economic aspects, the Turkish president and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also held lengthy discussions on terrorism this week during Erdogan’s two-day visit to India. Both parties agreed that there was no justification for terrorism, and urged all countries to disrupt terrorist networks and financing and “stop cross-border movements of terrorists,”

The Turkish president, during his trip, also raised concerns about the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (Feto). Ankara has demanded schools in India administered by a foundation linked to Fethullah Gulen ─ a US-based preacher who Erdogan accuses of instigating a failed coup in Turkey last year ─ be shut down. “As far as the Turkish concerns about Feto are concerned, they were mentioned to us. Any organisation in India, whether it is Indian or foreign, obviously has to work within the parameters of our laws and our norms and regulations,” Baglay said.

After talks with Modi, Erdogan assured India of Turkey’s full support in the fight against terrorism in general. Modi on his part said that “no intent or goal or reason or rationale can validate terrorism.” President Erdogan has different view on “cross-border terrorism” that India blames Pakistan for. On the question of exiled Turkish cleric Fehtullah Gulen, who is accused by Erdogan of plotting the 16 July coup against his government, the Turkish president described organisations associated with him as “terrorist” and hoped India would take necessary steps to rein in their activities. Both condemn terrorism.

Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his day-long visit to India extended “full solidarity” with India in battling terrorism. After extensive talks with Erdogan, in which the fight against terrorism formed a major part, prime minister Narendra Modi said both the countries have agreed that “no intent or goal, no reason or rationale can validate terrorism”.

PM Modi said that he and Erdogan “agreed to work together to strengthen our cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to effectively counter this menace.” During the talks, which extended by nearly two hours beyond the scheduled 60 minutes, India and Turkey agreed to boost bilateral trade from the current level of just over $6 billion and expressed the resolve to fight the global menace of terrorism together. “(The) president and I are clear that the strength of our economies presents an enormous opportunity to expand and deepen commercial linkages between our countries,” Modi said while addressing the media.

PM Modi said that at the level of the two governments, “we need to approach the entire landscape of business opportunities in a strategic and long-term manner”. India and Turkey are two large economies,” he stated. “Our bilateral trade turnover of around $6 billion does not do full justice to convergences in our economies. Clearly, the business and industry on both sides can do much more.

For this reason, Turkey’s relations with the West are not optimal but Turkey’s relation with Russia, China and India is qualitatively improving Turkey’s earlier ‘West-centric’ foreign policy towards a ‘multidimensional foreign policy’.

Turkey a source of stability for Mideast

The meeting between Modi and Erdogan was widely reported in Turkish Daily Sabah and commentary and opinion touched upon the future of India-Turkey relations, the kind of stability it would bring to West Asia. The paper also brought out the Israel angle which most media in India failed or refused to touch upon. India as a new strategic partner of USA is automatically a military ally of Israel as well and their bilateral military tie ups are going up with a lot agreements for latest Israeli terror goods meant to kill Kashmiris are being signed in New Delhi.

Israel seems to use India to push for reactivation of Turkish-Zionist military ties. Turkish-Indian relations and the Israeli angle’ noted that Israel is a key aspect for the India-Turkey relations as Turkey’s move towards India has come after Turkey signing a reconciliation deal on 27 June, 2016 with Israel. Israeli sources say that there is a visible move towards “openness and comfort” between India and Israel in discussing all facets of bilateral relations and India should take advantage of the warming relations between Turkey and Israel and enhance cooperation among its West Asian partners.

However, neither American, neither British nor Russian newspapers like Sputnik News, Russia Today, and The Moscow Times had lent much coverage to President Erdogan’s India visit. In West Asia, The Khaleej Times, Gulf News also had minimal coverage and did not generate any commentary as such. The reason for this important media omission has obvious reasons.

President Erdogan is a wily politician and is a past master in the art of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Recently he had a dinner meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even as he has been aiding and abetting Salafi jihadis against him. Indian strategic communist says President Erdogan has been trying to mollycoddle New Delhi with sweet nothings while having a very close relationship with Pakistan.

India wants Turkey, like USA and Russia do now, to ignore Pakistan and support its occupational crimes in Kashmir valley. Erdogan does not oblige New Delhi, however.

India stresses cooperation with India in the field of counter-terrorism should be a major area of interest for Erdogan as Turkey is in the grip of a spate of New Delhi asks as to what kind of value can he impart to this exercise when his government is closely involved with a country like Pakistan?

Convergence

Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who should be credited for redefining India-Turkey relations, now waiting for a breakthrough to qualify for another qualitative step forward. In 2001, then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani was the first high-level dignitary of the NDA government to have visited Turkey which concluded with an important agreement on an extradition treaty. Later, in 2003, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had gone on his landmark visit to Turkey — no Indian prime minister since then had gone to Turkey until prime minister Narendra Modi, in 2015, went to Antalaya to meet the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the margins of the G20 summit which was followed by another meeting on the sidelines of G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China in 2016.

There was much more visible convergence between India and Turkey on trade and commercial ties. The political and religious differences between them didn’t prevent the two sides from pledging to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2020 from $6.5 billion now.

Turkey has largely been seen as a moderate Islamic democracy with a population of about 80 million, strategically situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Indian leader PM Narendra Modi noted that India and Turkey were two large economies which present an enormous opportunity to expand and deepen commercial linkages. He urged Turkish construction companies to participate in India’s efforts to bolster infrastructure.

At the outset it should be appreciated that the top Islamist ruler from Turkey shared dais with the top Hindutva leader in New Delhi and both struck harmonious cord and signaled friendly rapport. Different religions do not necessarily come in the way of friendly relations between and among nations. But Turkey’s ties with India have been rather indifferent, according to New Delhi, thanks to Turkey’s closeness to India’s arch nuclear rival Pakistan on key issues.

While Turkey’s close ties with Pakistan and Ankara’s ever-deepening involvement in several urban development projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir has riled India no end, Turkey too has its own concerns with India, right or wrong.

The Turkish side expressed supported for India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Indian media reported. President Erdogan batted for India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, something which has been stridently opposed by China. But Erdogan hyphenated his ‘gesture’ with a similar status for Pakistan, a country with which Turkey has extremely close political and strategic relations, and supporting Pakistan’s case for NSG membership. This is what he said in an interview to an Indian TV news channel: “Both India and Pakistan have the right to aspire for NSG membership. I think India should not assume such an attitude. If Turkey was fair enough to support Pakistan, it was fair enough to support India. We are very objective and positive to the NSG process.”

Trade and regional cooperation potentials notwithstanding, India and Turkey have some problems that keep overwhelming the perception of their bilateral relations. Three issues will always be asked when it comes to deepen India-Turkey relations. First, how much Pakistan determines Turkey’s India perception, second, Turkey’s perception of Kashmir, and third, what is Turkey’s view of reforms in international institutions, which should ideally result in including India in the United Nations Security Council as permanent member.

India-Turkey cooperation in fields related to science, technology, education, culture and development areas have massive potential and both countries need each other to achieve their national interests and development goals.

Disagreements

President Erdogan has been honest in telling the world about his intent on supporting global Islam and helping Muslim nations in whatever way it can. Turkey’s Islamist ideology is seen above politics and does not compromise on the religious ideas. This explains why Istanbul supports Palestine and Kashmir sovereignty demands overtly as part of its ideology.

Diplomatic pleasantries, signing of agreements aside, Erdogan remarked that India should ideally be taking a ‘multilateral’ approach to hot button issue of Kashmir, however, India politely, but firmly said that Kashmir was a bilateral issue to be sorted out by India and Pakistan only. Neither of the press representatives mentioned any of this in the official press briefings. However press in Pakistan reported favorably about Erdogan’s comments. Pakistan has always welcomed the statements and endeavors aimed at addressing the human rights issues in IoK (the so-called India-occupied Kashmir) and the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, the statement concluded.”

President Erdogan, the founder of Islamist government in Turkey, supports Islamic governments against the will and wishes of anti-Islamic forces, nations, including Pakistan and support s the struggle of Palestinians and Kashmiris for sovereignty and human dignity. Turkey’s concern for Palestinians and Kashmiris is besides the rapport it maintains with India and, to some extent, Israel. In fact, ties between the two countries have been difficult because of their divergent positions on the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.

For quite some time, the Erdogan government has been asking India tough questions about Gulen and believes that Gulen’s movement, which Ankara dubs as FETO or Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation, has “infiltrated” India, a charge which about New Delhi has neither evidence nor any credible information. Turkey wants India to take action against FETO but has thus far failed to give any concrete information to India on the basis of which action can be taken.

Erdogan had last visited India in 2008 but that time as the prime minister. The Gulen issue was not an irritant in India-Turkey bilateral relations then because Gulen was a major ally of Erdogan. The two fell apart only in 2013, when major corruption scandals against the Erdogan government broke out. This time Erdogan’s stakes in India are much higher.

Turkey is not much impressed by Indian way of getting endorsement of its veto membership from every visiting dignitary and President Erdogan, therefore, did not sign the endorsement sheet extended to him.

Multidimensional foreign policy

Once a reluctant Muslim partner, Turkey has become a close ally of the Gulf countries, thanks to Iran’s growing hegemonic ambitions and Egypt’s preoccupation with its domestic crisis and absence of American leadership from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) security architecture. Iran’s regional role has become deeply dependent on its military cooperation with Russia and other non-state actors like Hezbollah — something that Iran’s Arab neighbours are extremely worried about.

Turkey’s normalized relations with Russia have a stabilizing role in the region — where it can assume a balancing role among various competitive powers. Despite many serious differences over Syria, Turkey remains in good terms with Iran, however, allowing Turkey to use its leverage to mediate between Iran and its Gulf neighbours.

On Syria, Russia needs Turkey more than any other country to find a lasting political settlement; Russia has been advocating for a political outcome. Since the fall of Aleppo, Turkey has also refocused its Syria policy from regime change to counter terrorism, narrowing its differences with Russia and Iran. Turkey’s counter terrorism response is defined by threats: Islamic State’s presence in many urban areas of Syria and Iraq; and expansion of Kurdish separatist forces closely linked with internationally recognised terrorist group PKK. In 2016, Turkey adopted a go-alone military operation against Islamic State in north Syria starting from Jerablus and stopping at Al-Bab, effectively converting Euphrates as a buffer zone between the two sides of Kurds-held areas. However, the 15 July failed military coup attempt caught Turkey unaware of another terror threat, the Gulen network many Turks perceived only as a threat by “spiritual cult”.

In an extremely complicated Syrian crisis, the Assad government has successfully used the threats tactically against the Syrian rebels, by softening its view on Syrian Kurdish groups and using “Islamic terrorism” card interchangeably with Islamic State, the opposition forces and Al-Qaeda groups. As terrorist attacks increased against Turkish targets in 2015 and 2016, Turkey’s frustration against its Western allies’ support to the Kurdish groups deepened.

Turkey’s relations with its Western allies have gone berserk on Western indifference to what Turkey considers most serious threat to its national security. European leaders have been delaying Turkey’s EU accession. The trust deficit between Turkey and the West is widening. In this context, Turkey’s relation with Russia, China and India is qualitatively improving Turkey’s earlier ‘West-centric’ foreign policy towards a ‘multidimensional foreign policy’.

Turkey’s South Asia engagement is likely to deepen after India has renewed its interest in the Southern Corridor of Asia-Europe Rail (SCAER) project which will connect Istanbul with Kolkata, extendable further to Myanmar and Thailand. Officials from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey have already concluded their first meeting in New Delhi on 16 March, 2017. Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) was originally proposed by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in 1980s and endorsed by concerned countries in 1992. The rail link, if started, can revolutionize India’s trade connectivity to Central Asia, Europe and West Asia.

Kashmir

India has murdered over 1000,000 Muslims in occupied Jammu Kashmir. Many Muslims, especially the youth, have disappeared without nay traces. And many secret graveyards have been discovered in Kashmir region.

Kashmir remains the flashpoint of tensions in South Asia where India and Pakistan obtained nukes to fight for entire Jammu Kashmir nation now being occupied by Pakistan and India- India does it brutally and seeks the endorsement of veto powers, particularly the super power USA.

Brutal occupation of Kashmir enabled India to enhance its military prowess and nuke manufacturing efforts. India is not ready to address the Kashmir issue bilaterally through peaceful means as has been stipulated in the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. India and Pakistan keep fighting each other, engaged in cross border fires to terrorize Kashmiris.

Like Israel which has managed to delay the establishment of a soverign Palestine but still says it would resolve the conflict by direct negotiations with Palestinians, India also says it is always ready to talk about Kashmir and all other issues with Pakistan so that “peaceful solutions can be found bilaterally”. That is a bogus statement to fool the world.

Turkey views Kashmir issue as a composite one involving both India and Pakistan. India on the contrary, wants Turkey to ignore Pakistani claims and support Indian case in Kashmir. Istanbul is eager to help Kashmiris regain their lost sovereignty.

On the question of Kashmir—the Himalayan region that India says is part of its territory, something disputed by Pakistan—“India put forth its views that Kashmir was an integral part of India. Erdogan had stirred a hornet’s nest by saying that there should a “multilateral dialogue” on Kashmir—something India has been opposed to; India seeks to bilaterally resolve all its disputes with Pakistan. India has always said it would never brook any third party involvement on the Kashmir issue which is essentially a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Erdogan had, in an interview before his arrival in India, suggested that the two countries needed to ‘strengthen multilateral dialogue’ in an attempt to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.

Always opposing any outside interest in Indian criminal operations in Kashmir to kill and terrorize Kashmir Muslims, India quickly dismissed Turkish President Erdogan’s suggestion of multilateral talks on the Kashmir dispute, insisting the matter must be resolved bilaterally through talks between Islamabad and New Delhi. India says this knowing fully well that both India and Pakistan, the shared illegal occupiers of Jammu Kashmir, would never want to solve the problem because any credible solution means surrendering of Jammu Kashmir to Kashmiris.

India believes that terrorism issue helps it case for Kashmir and is eager not to loe out Kashmir. India is happy about cross-border terrorism and state-sponsored terror because that made India a strong nation now having established “strategic partnership” with USA and many western powers that sells terror goods to both India and Pakistan.

It is true that Pakistan-Turkey relations are more emotional than Turkey-India relations. Pakistan is projected as a country of Islamic leadership in third word despite the fact that India remains the second largest Muslim country in the world, without OIC membership though. The question many Muslim countries do not ask is: who is more important Pakistan or Kashmir, Pakistan or Indian Muslims? Weak faith could be a major reason for that.

India asks USA, Russia and other major powers not to take up the Kashmir issue for any international debates and as per its demand, USA also says that India and Pakistan would finalize the issue, even as Indian forces mercilessly kiln Kashmiris by missing the extra military laws.

India says it wants to end terrorism and also directly control Pakistan and it policies and politics, but never wants to solve the Kashmir issue. Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said, in a veiled reference to Pakistan that the Kashmir issue has a “prominent dimension of cross-border terrorism” that needs to be stopped by “those who are perpetuating it.

Pakistan’s ‘pro-Muslim’ and ‘pro-Kashmir’ credentials are often received uncritically. Turkey’s strong secular and democratic credentials bring great respect and regard for Turkey in India in stark opposition to the fragility of Pakistan’s democracy.

Turkish president’s offer of mediating between India and Pakistani was welcomed by Hurriyet leaders in India-held Kashmir. Hurriyet Forum Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq observed that the Turkish president “is well aware of how the Kashmir dispute is the main source of tension between the two nations -India and Pakistan. Turkey being an important Islamic country, and having cordial relations with both India and Pakistan, will hopefully make efforts to end the political uncertainly prevalent in the region since decades,” Farooq said. “Being an active member of Kashmir Contact Group at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Turkey has always advocated the solution of Kashmir issue in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, and Ankara can play a vital role in the resolution of this issue to end the tension in this region,” he maintained.

It is not surprising to observe that Turkish media has been mostly fair and objective in its coverage of India-Pakistan affairs, rather, many Turks have a clear understanding that Turkey should not come into Indo-Pakistan’s trap or support internationalizing the Kashmir issue.

Future

India and Turkey seem to converge on the need to build a stronger economic relationship, committing themselves to a vast increase in trade over the next few years, but seemed to disagree on political issues such as Kashmir. India says Kashmir has been made an integral part of Indian constitution but Turkey wants a soverign Kashmir.

India and Turkey waited fourteen years to see this moment once again. Turkey wants to play a vital role in bringing India and Pakistan together and resolve the Kashmir issue as well.

There are many good reasons to believe that the leaders of the two nations will find Vajpayee’s legacy as a common point to advance India-Turkey relations. The regional contexts in which the two countries are working support their role as well. Turkey, for example, notwithstanding setbacks in Syria, remains an influential and a key regional power to define the future outcomes of crisis in Syria and Iraq. Indian strategists want Erdogan and Modi to come to an understanding on India’s NSG bid, as this can expedite India entry to NSG.

For Turkey, India’s increasing economic and security profile is very important. India comes off as strong and powerful with its huge young and skilled population, a rich cultural base, and most importantly democratic institutions. India’s research and development profile: space program, especially micro-satellite and nano-satellites program, research in generic drugs, scientific research institutions have all given India a confident industrial and development scenario. This is what has been the main force behind redefining India’s strengthening relations with some major Muslim countries, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Egypt, almost unbound from any regional rivalry perceptions.

If New Delhi realizes and give up its faulty policies being pursued since it occupied Jammu Kashmir without the will and wishes of Kashmiris, towards Kashmiris and Pakistan, and think constructively about regain peace by allowing Kashmiris regain their lost sovereignty, that would genuinely build up its relations with not only Turkey and Pakistan and Kashmiris, but entire Islamic world and even entire world.

Peaceful regional cannot be guaranteed by genocides of Kashmir Muslims and silencing their rights to protest against occupational crimes perpetrated by brutal forces.

Erdogan’s visit should start a new era of bilateral engagement where both sides should invest efforts to understand each other. But keep your fingers crossed as India would not change its petrified mindset towards Kashmiris or Pakistanis, so don’t expect an overnight transformation of India-Turkey relations following Erdogan’s visit.

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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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