October 31, 2001


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Rajeev Srinivasan

Other people's wars: let them fight them -- Part I

From the earliest days of the current 'global war on terrorism' I have had the strange feeling of being in the middle of something surreal, perhaps a Luis Bunuel film, a Salvador Dali painting or a Hieronymous Bosch work. For there are bizarre things happening in the background, people dying in strange ways and being tortured by inhuman creatures; nothing is what it seems to be on the surface; time dilates; and reality is distorted. I guess this is how a propaganda war works. Or maybe the Americans are just being sucked into a quagmire, I don't know.

On the one hand, there is America, loudly proclaiming that they are going to uproot and destroy terrorism forever. They swear they are not against Islam, only against certain fundamentalist and extreme people who are distorting the teachings of Islam. All this sounds good, but the spiel isn't really selling, unfortunately. They claim only 10-15 per cent of Muslims are extremists; but then, that's 100 million to 150 million people: they must be the ones burning American flags and chanting "Death to America, the Great Satan."

On the other hand, there is America's major ally, Saudi Arabia, which, with the explicit intention of turning the whole world Muslim, has funded thousands of fundamentalist seminaries all over. Their Wah'abi form of extremist Islam has readied hundreds of thousands of people for what, by their lights, is a holy war. The fact that all of the suicide bombers were Arabs, one would think, might have made the Americans look slightly askance at the Saudis.

But the Saudis are sacrosanct as far as the Americans are concerned. In addition to sitting on a veritable sea of petroleum, it turns out that the Saudis are also sitting on a mouth-watering array of the most advanced weaponry: it practically bankrupted them, and now the Americans would prefer to not let all this loot fall into the hands of foes. Thus the House of Sa'ud is to be treated with kid gloves. This is an axiom.

Then there is Pakistan, which has actually run a lot of these seminaries and trained many of the martyrs-to-be; which claims to be the 'fortress of Islam' based on its possession of the 'Islamic Bomb' (with no credit to the Chinese for giving it to them). In a supreme irony, the Pakistanis (especially their military intelligence, ISI) who very likely were involved in the bombing of the World Trade Centre at least as advisors, are now America's 'frontline ally' in the 'war on terrorism'. We have heard the maxim, 'set a thief to catch a thief,' but this is a bit much!

On the third hand, there is Afghanistan, which has been pounded back into the Stone Age by the Soviets; if any civilisation was accidentally left over, it has been eradicated by the Taleban. In an eloquent essay that was circulated widely on email, an Afghan-American writer whose name I forget wrote about how carpet-bombing these miserable people would just shift the rubble around a little: they have nothing left to lose.

What exactly is a nice country like India doing hanging around with a gang like this?

From our vantage point, Pakistan is the source and fount of all this terrorism. This is partly the result of a conscious decision to use fundamentalism as the glue that holds together the disparate and centrifugal tribes of Pakistan. It is also partly the result of an American decision to create a bunch of fundamentalists to fight off the Soviets after their invasion of Afghanistan.

(Parenthetically, I wonder whose bright idea this was: Kissinger must have been out of policy-making circles by then, unless the eminence grise was still advising the cold warriors. But baby-sitting fundamentalists and then leaving town is hardly a winning strategy. Those with long memories remember Ronald Reagan toasting a group of Afghan fundamentalists as "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers" of America! There was one man they should have supported, the charismatic and decent military genius Ahmed Shah Masoud, but they did not: just as they, for tactical reasons, refused to support Ho Chi Minh.)

Pakistan had a very interesting reason to meddle in Afghanistan. This is the fact that the Durand Line, which was the border between Afghanistan and British India, was only supposed to last, by treaty, for 100 years. Somewhere in the 1980s, those 100 years were due to expire, and the Pashtun populations on both sides of the Durand Line were to be reunited in a Greater Pashtunistan.

A united Pashtun nation is not in Pakistan's interests: note how they and their protégés the Taleban were quick to execute resistance hero Abdul Haq who attempted to build a coalition with fellow Pashtuns. It is believed that he was betrayed to the Taleban by the ISI. A united Pashtun nation would mean the loss of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan; the dismemberment of the rest of Pakistan would be swift as there is no love lost for the top caste, Punjabis, elsewhere.

In the end, Pakistan would be reduced to Punjab alone. This was the pressing reason for Pakistani interference in Afghanistan. They tried a lot of things: first they supported the fundamentalist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. When that didn't work, they bet on other horses.

Never once did they support the real hero of Afghanistan, the Lion of Panjshir, Ahmed Shah Masoud. He was the one man who had the intellect, the vision, the moderation, the nationalism, the character, to build a strong Afghanistan: I am reminded of the tragic tale of the Mogul Dara Shikoh. But then Pakistan wanted not a strong Afghanistan but a vassal state.

This they achieved through the creation of the Taleban; in addition they got 'strategic depth' as the first step in their proposed Islamic Empire. I have in hand a truly blood-curdling interview with a member of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who quotes his leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed's views on casually exterminating all non-Muslims from "Afghanistan to Burma, and Sri Lanka to Tajikistan". Others, more megalomaniac, have add all of ex-Soviet Central Asia and East Turkmenistan (Chinese Xinjiang) to their empire, to be controlled from the would-be imperial capital, Islamabad!

In effect, by creating the Taleban, Pakistan erased the Durand Line. Pashtuns on both sides of the border move across the international border at will: note the 10,000 armed tribals who have just crossed over into Afghanistan to support the Taleban. And it is virtually impossible to distinguish the Taleban from the Pakistani Army. Consider the cognitive dissonance between the alleged identities of the Taleban (seminary students who only study Arabic and the Koran) and their apparent skills (they suddenly began driving tanks and flying F-16 fighter jets). Clearly these were trained soldiers, Pakistani Army regulars.

But all is forgiven, it looks like. General Musharraf is comfortably running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. According to a report in the UK's The Spectator, Taleban leaders are so tight with the Pakistanis that their phone numbers have the Pakistani country code, rather than the Afghani one! And the US is getting ready to give Pakistan a multi-billion-dollar aid package. What a sweet deal: kill 5,000 Wall Street people, get $5 billion - roughly $1 million per head.

Consider the Indian side of the picture: when the human toll of the World Trade Centre is added up, the 250+ Indians are nowhere remembered in the US media. This is the second largest group of victims, after Americans themselves, but there is no mention of Indian losses. Just as there has been no mention of the effects of terrorism in India in the last decade: tens of thousands of civilians murdered, ethnic cleansing, pogroms. India's prompt and generous gesture offering full cooperation to the US, a big deal for us overturning 50 years of Nehruvian Stalinist hostility and non-aligned trash-talking, barely got an acknowledgement from the Americans.

When the UK Times writes about the two camps the world seems to be divided into: the civilised and settled societies versus the nomadic barbarians, they omit to include India in the former. Yes, India, with the longest continuous civilisation on earth, the one that has been the target of every nomadic barbarian from Alexander the Macedonian to the British themselves.

What does all this mean? That India's struggles against terrorism are of no particular interest to the white world. The massacres of Hindus in Kashmir by Islamic terrorists, and in the Northeast by Christian terrorists, the nexus between the Pakistanis and the criminal mafioso of Mumbai who precipitated bombings in 1993 -- all these are not even a blip on the radar screen. All they want is bin Laden, to salve their wounded pride.

In other words, it's déjà vu all over again as Yogi Berra had it. India is left to fight her own battles, grand 'global alliances against terrorism' notwithstanding. The Economist, the voice of NATO, writes a long justification for the American action against terrorists. You could simply substitute 'India' for 'America' in their text, and it would be fully meaningful. Yet, they do not admit that we have the right to fight the terrorism that is being inflicted on us. They simply don't care.

It is a white people's war they are fighting; no 'global' and 'just' war. We have already fought enough white people's wars. Consider the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century, part of the 'Great Game'. I read an account of how an army of 16,500 (mostly Indian troops) with 38,000 non-combatants under one General Elphinstone, apparently a congenital idiot, was wiped out practically to the last man.

The Indian women, wives of the soldiers, died in the snows, abandoned, "starving, stripped, raped, and finally knifed by the Afghans". Of course, the 'European ladies' were protected by white soldiers. This is the thanks we got then for fighting white people's wars. I expect no better now.

There are plenty of other instances. Indians were used as cannon fodder by the British all over the place in both World Wars: in fact there were probably more Indian troops than British troops in their armies; but we have never received either credit or recompense for fighting their wars. Nor did they, in gratitude, grant us the freedom that we were all allegedly fighting for: you see, freedom is meant only for white folks.

The Americans traditionally respect the militarily strong, especially those who have hurt them: the Japanese, the Vietnamese, etc. They did not respect the Iraqis because they did not hurt them: thus the 'turkey shoot' massacres of the retreating and hapless Republican Guard. Now that the Arabs and Afghans have hurt them, the Americans will have some respect for them. We, wimpish and hectoring but harmless Indians, have no place in their world view.

Besides, Foggy Bottom is full of cold warriors who are much more comfortable intriguing with military dictators than dealing with a system where Marxists are still not laughed out of polite discourse. Frankly I don't blame them: India is the only place where Marxists still strut around as though they matter, and don't know yet that they have been consigned to the waste-heap of history.

Other people's wars: we need to worry only about our national interests - Part II

Rajeev Srinivasan

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