Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Battle has Come Home: Madrassas cannot provide a balanced world-view

Kaifi Azmi, the Urdu poet who passed away a few years ago, had a single line solution to the communal problem in India. He used to say that if every Hindu has two to three Muslim friends and every Muslim has six to seven Hindu friends their understanding about each other would increase so much that they would never think along communal lines. As the media attempts social and religious profiling of the people accused of carrying out the terror blasts in Delhi and else where, Kaifi Azmi’s solution came back to me. Ironically, Kaifi Azmi, hailed as being one of the torch-bearers of progressive (read Leftist) poetry in India belonged to the Mijwan village of Azamgarh district, now in the news for reasons that would have been anathema to the dead poet.
Like others in the media, even I have been trying to profile the terrorist: the person who does not shiver before throwing a bomb in the public place, who does not die of remorse when he sees the images of the carnage wrought by him, who does not worry that one of his own could be the inadvertent victim. What drives him? What could be his motivation? The police have spoken of wads of money that the suspect Atif who was killed in the Batla House shoot-out used to dole out. But can money be enough motivation for young boys to take such chances with their lives and those of their loved ones? Indoctrination by the ISI-run modules has been put forward as another reason for young people to barter regular life for that of a fugitive. But how can a person get so susceptible to indoctrination unless there exists a void in his brain that just needs filling up.
I think the problem is much deep-rooted than this. It lies in the upbringing of these people. Going through the profiles of the suspects held by the police, one common thread that stands out starkly is the exclusivist nature of their education and upbringing. All of them went to either a madrassa or an Islamic school and subsequently a Muslim-run college. This is not to suggest that these educational institutions teach terrorist violence, but they do not give them the right exposure to the world that they live in. Consider this. You are born in a particular religion, not only your immediate family but even the extended one is from the same religion. You live in an area where only people from your religion live. Then you go to the school with fellow religionists and subsequently college of the similar nature. No doubt you acquire professional knowledge, you may even become an engineer, but what is your world view. In your most formative years when you make friends, form opinions, develop a personality you have not even met a person from another religion. You neither know the facts about them, nor understand why they do what they do. All that you have picked up about them are rumours repeated ad nauseam by various people at home and in your friends’ circle. Your friends are also not different from you because they all come from the same stock.
It is easy to generalise about the Muslims with frog-in-the-well-like upbringing because I have come across many Hindus with similar kind of attitude. They believe the most ridiculous stories as facts about Islam or even Christianity. But what makes such Muslims more susceptible to bad influences is that they also live and grow with a sense of victim-hood and injustice. And because they only interact and socialise with fellow Muslims this feeling only get more aggravated. Such youngsters, brimming with the recklessness and immaturity of youth combined with a sense of persecution are easy targets for exploiters. If only they had non-Muslim friends their discourses could have gone beyond their religion and community. And they could have developed a balanced world-view. This is the reason why Kaifi Azmi’s solution should be taken seriously. Policing and even better intelligence gathering have their limitations. Eventually, we will have to address the root.
There is no doubt that madrassas have their merits. They are a source of free education for those who cannot afford to pay for their children’s education. But despite introduction of subjects like computer science and mathematics, madrassa cannot provide learning that a regular school can, simply because it is too closely linked with religious education. Non-Muslim children will not come there and Muslim children will be at the mercy of half-literate mullahs who in any case have a skewed world-view. Besides, most madrassas get developmental funding from outside the country. Maybe, there is a need to not only monitor the source of this funding but also audit their balance sheets to see how the money is spent.
There is no point now in complaining about the excesses by the police or the non-implementation of the Sachar Committee report. Religious profiling is the price we have to pay for ignoring these subversive elements over the years, for denying our children the right to balanced lives. If we seriously want to save our children from further harm we will have to be in the forefront fighting terrorism. And this time, the battle begins at home.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Uneasy Kashmir

All stake holders in Kashmir are uneasy about the sudden outbursts of azadi (freedom) reverberating in the air: the security forces are uneasy because of the mood of the people; the separatists are uneasy as they lack the platform that can keep them together for long; the regional political parties are uneasy as they appear to have been rendered unnecessary; New Delhi is uneasy about the implications of large peaceful congregations chanting azadi; and Pakistan is uneasy as it is woefully unprepared to exploit it. The uneasiness is about how to interpret azadi. Is it a secessionist call for independence from India? Is it a catchy slogan meant to achieve more than autonomy but less than complete independence? Is it meant to boo the authorities who are perceived to be high-handed and unreasonable; or is it an answer to vandalism in Jammu.
While the answer could be any of the above, two issues are indeed striking: just when everyone thought that things were back to normal and that the people were contend going about their lives, reality dawned that the sentiment of azadi was still alive. It simply needed a good reason to come to the fore. And importantly, majority of people chanting and swaying to the azadi tune were youngsters born in late Eighties; really the children who had known azadi as their lullaby.
But things are not as ominous as they appear. For one, the situation is certainly not back to the Nineties. What sparked the present unrest was really the anger of the fruit growers who after hours of wait were unable to meet the visiting Union home minister. Sensing the opportunity, the separatists organised the ‘Muzzaffarabad Chalo’ march under the hastily formed Kashmir Co-ordination Committee, a motley gathering of separatists of all hues and various other associations of fruit growers, merchants, lawyers, students and so on. In essence thus, the crowds were not spontaneous but spurred by the Separatists, who after the success of the Muzzaffarabad march were hard pressed to stay together for the Pampore and Idgah marches, and had announced the sit-in protest at Lal Chowk as well. The rallies did not trouble Governor N.N. Vohra, who believed that the calming of Jammu would automatically take the wind off the sails of the Kashmir unrest. However, this is not how New Delhi read the situation. After the visit of the National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan to Kashmir, it was reasoned that more rallies would help the Separatists craft a common minimum programme. Consequently, the azadi calls would assume a hardened connotation, and hence people could not be allowed a field day.
The security forces are certainly not unhappy with New Delhi’s decision. The singular worry of the state police has been the mood of the people; how to control crowds that may unwittingly go out of hand and suddenly run amok. Another concern was the local police force that coming from the same stock may begin to sympathise with the unarmed crowd. Thus the best bet would be no rallies and no crowds. The Central Reserve Police Force, in support of the police, thinks the same way, especially when they have already tasted the people’s anger. Most of their static bunkers in Srinagar have been demolished and Hurriyat flags were flown on the debris of a few by the people who participated in the Separatists’ rallies. All this is in stark contrast to the Nineties, when militancy and not law and order worried the police and paramilitary forces. A senior police officer told FORCE that Syed Salauddin of the United Jehad Council based in Pakistan was making a virtue out of necessity by his call to militants within Kashmir to let the Separatists’ rallies remain peaceful. Not more than 800 hardened militants in the whole of Kashmir are little match to the well-trained, motivated and equipped state police and the CRPF. This is how things have changed: the CRPF and to a little extent the police are today confident of undertaking anti-terrorist operations, but are uncomfortable about hardcore policing duties which they have not done in recent years. The army has contributed immensely towards the present confidence level of the police and the CRPF by ensuring that infiltration across the LC remains a trickle, and the hinterland is sanitised. Even as the United Headquarters does not meet regularly, the real synergy for anti-terrorist operations is provided by the district core groups comprising representatives of the army, police, CRPF, intelligence, and district authorities.
Even as terrorists are enervated, the Separatists are equally at sea. There are just too many ideological differences amongst them: Geelani wants merger with Pakistan, Mirwaiz desires a tripartite solution between Kashmir, Pakistan and India, Yasin Malik prefers independence, and Sajad Lone has written a good document called ‘Achievable Nationhood’ which speaks of many possibilities outside the Indian Constitution. More than anything, Sajad wants continuation of dialogue as the way forward. The tallest separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, if one goes by the crowd pulling power, is uncertain for yet another reason. He had the full support of Pakistan’s military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, and with him gone the Mirwaiz stands alone disappointed by the existing political system in Pakistan. It is unclear what Asif Ali Zardari meant when he said that India and Pakistan need to focus equally on large issues like trade for improved bilateral relations. It is certain that he did not have the clearance from his Army Chief to say this. Were it not for the sudden unrest in Kashmir as a fall out of Jammu events, the Mirwaiz was reported to be leaving for a fellowship to the United States. Now, he mulls over how much things have changed since 1994 when the Hurriyat was formed to provide the negotiating face to terrorism at its peak. Today, terrorism into Kashmir stands at its nadir, with not much hope of escalation as the Pakistan Army and the ISI are fighting for their nation’s survival in the western provinces of FATA and NWFP. Let alone the army reserves meant against India which have gone back to their locations in Peshawar and Quetta, there has been a substantive thinning of permanent Pakistani forces of headquarters 10 corps in Rawalpindi on the LC. Indian intelligence assessments suggest that there are glaring operational gaps in Pakistani defences on the LC. Under such circumstances, the Pakistan Army is not likely to disregard the November 2003 ceasefire on the military line. Sporadic firings and infringements are another matter. These are being done at the behest of the ISI that wants to push as many infiltrators into Kashmir as possible before the state goes for assembly elections. But their efforts will not amount to much, as the Indian Army is in total control of its area of responsibility.
Interestingly, the only Kashmiri leader who seems to have played his cards with dexterity is Omar Abdullah. Throughout the period of rallies in Kashmir, he consistently made a moot point: the government should engage the Hurriyat as they could garner more crowds than anyone else in recent times. When asked whether this would render his National Conference irrelevant, Abdullah said that NC would always remain relevant as long as Kashmir remains a part of India. What he was saying is that either way he would remain important: if the government held only the assembly elections which would cater for the basic daily needs of the people. Or, if the government went further and addressed the azadi sentiment, the NC with a large following within Indian Kashmir would count aplenty. Ideally, he suggested that the NC’s proposal of autonomy, a half-way mark between the two options, was most relevant today than ever before.
The big question emerging out of the whole episode is that what next for New Delhi? Unfortunately, its thinking will be mired in the past with few lessons learnt. New Delhi’s game-plan is simple: keep Kashmir incident free with curfews, detentions and whatever else it takes until the Jammu issue gets resolved. Once that happens, the Hurriyat will become toothless and it will be life as usual. This will be a mistake for many reasons. Kashmir has experienced a real or perceived economic blockade which it will not forget in a hurry. It has also sensed the rising communalism in Jammu, where there were umpteen media reports, some true and most fabricated, of Muslim exodus from Jammu to the Valley. And most importantly, the young Kashmiri generation has found resonance in the azadi sentiment. This should not be dismissed lightly as the crowds were non-violent with a steely determination for self-sacrifice. All these are serious matters.
A good action plan must seek to open trade between Kashmir and Muzzafarabad at the earliest. If this does not happen by October 31, the agreed dates between India and Pakistan, the Prime Minister, as suggested by the Mirwaiz, should publicly hold Pakistan responsible for the delay. The next urgent thing is to hold assembly elections at the earliest in the state. It does not require a genius to appreciate that a state government would have calmed the situation faster. It would have made the ‘Muzzaffarabad Chalo’ call unnecessary, and if it did happen, it would have ensured that the numbers did not multiply or reached anywhere close to Baramullah. Now comes the most difficult part. There is a need for a permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue. Musharraf was indeed our best bet and his four-point formula, with modifications, was doable. With confusion prevalent in Pakistan, New Delhi will do well to at least engage our own Separatists in a dialogue, who then can reach out to Kashmiris in Pakistan. Azadi in Kashmir is the wake-up call for a multi-pronged and a concerted action with understanding, rather than say that it is time for New Delhi to think the unthinkable.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Terrorism?

After dithering on the idea for a long time and grappling with semantics even longer, the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in Deoband finally found the words to denounce terrorism in February this year. In the presence of a large number of Muslim scholars from all over India, the head of Dar-ul-Uloom, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, said, “There is no place for terrorism in Islam”. Calling Islam a religion of love and peace, he described terrorism as a thoughtless act of violence against innocent people, whether committed by an individual, an institution or a government and is against the teachings of Islam.
Given the mildness of the statement, it was surprising how a big deal was made of this pronouncement. Analysts argued that though it was long overdue, the fact that Dar-ul-Uloom had finally condemned terrorism would be a big blow to the likes of al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other such groups which claim theological affiliation with the biggest Islamic seminary in South Asia (some insist it is the second most important in the world after al Azhar University of Egypt, as it has influenced in some way or the other maximum schools of Islamic thought). Many also said that this fatwa would discourage those who were being brain-washed in various madarassas, especially in Pakistan, from joining these terrorist groups. Apparently, when these groups go out on recruitment drives to these madarassas, they carry the name of Dar-ul-Uloom as a reference letter. So now that it has officially been said that terrorism has no place in Islam, the fence-sitters will not fall prey to the exhortations of the recruiters and see through the ‘fake-ness’ of their reference letters.
Ironically, the religious leaders of various Muslims bodies who had attended the ‘historic’ meeting in February and threw their weight behind the fatwa felt differently as far as its reasons and import were concerned. According to them, they felt compelled to issue the fatwa because many non-Muslims were associating terrorism with Islam. So it was meant to clear these misconceptions. Moreover, in the last few years because of the convenience of arresting bearded and skull-capped Muslims in the aftermath of any terrorist attack, those who had even a passing connection with Deoband or its ancillary units had become particularly vulnerable to police actions. The pronouncement was also meant as a means to protect innocent Muslims from harassment and torture at the hands of the police.
Even if these artless Maulanas hadn’t said as much, it is clear that the significance of such a fatwa is extremely limited. Just as no Muslim in the world believes that Islam supports or condones terrorism, no terrorist thinks that he is committing an act of terror, which is why the famous line that ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’. A person who picks up the gun or ties an explosive-laden belt around his body does so believing that his is a righteous path and his sacrifice will improve the lot of his people.
Though today, as the US flounders on its war on terrorism, it is being urged that no distinction should be made on the grounds of good or bad terrorists, the fact remains that barring very few groups, most of the so-called terrorists are waging political battles, even if they resort to what may be called acts of terror. Since they do not consider themselves terrorists, and neither do their supporters, how can the fatwa on terrorism deter them.
Now, if there was a fatwa on Jihad, it would have had a different impact altogether, because for Osama bin Laden and his ilk, the operative word is Jihad and not terrorism. And Jihad has a religious sanction. Instead of denouncing terrorism, had Dar-ul-Uloom held a high level discussion and debate on the concept of Jihad, both Akbar and Asghar, perhaps it would have been more useful. From time to time, sundry Muslim scholars have said that Jihad-e-Akbar (the struggle within, to ensure that one is a better human being) is a greater and nobler cause in comparison to Jihad-e-Asghar which is a violent one meant to be waged against the oppressors. Though very important, this is a benign distinction, which can easily be distorted by vested and clever people. Moreover, the concept of an oppressor is very vague, hence waging a violent Jihad does not require much convincing. This is the reason why if Dar-ul-Uloom seriously wants to set the record straight, it needs to initiate a discussion on Jihad and the importance of distinguishing between the two kinds. Dar-ul-Uloom needs to clearly spell out what Jihad-e-Asghar means, under what circumstances, under whose command and against whom can it be waged. And most importantly, can killing on the sly or non-combatants be accepted as a form of Jihad? Not that most people do not know this, but if a stand against terrorism has to be taken, we might as well start from the root. And while they are at it, they might as well clarify that a fatwa is a mere opinion, not an order that can be enforced, so that a few analysts who are now mulling as to how the Deoband fatwa against terrorism can be enforced are saved the trouble.

Such a Long Journey

What is one to make of the repeated statement by the US ambassador in New Delhi, David C. Mulford, that the hoped Nuclear Supplier Group’s waiver will be ‘clean’ and not ‘unconditional’. We heard this for the first time after the Manmohan Singh government won the trust vote on the nuclear deal in Parliament on July 22 at great cost; the biggest being that the opposition parties will exploit it to the hilt during the coming general elections if the deal fails ratification by the present US Congress. It can be argued that the US envoy did not desire to say this before he was certain that New Delhi, after dumping the Left parties, was indeed serious about talks with the NSG. It is also being said that the US’ strategy is to move the goalposts one issue at a time so as not to overwhelm New Delhi into exasperated rejection. I believe the latter to be the truth. The whole issue, after all, is extremely complicated as it concerns finding common grounds within the strategic interests of two unequal partners; one determined to remain the foremost world leader, and the other unsure of a regional role. The matter really is not whether India gets accepted as an equal partner by the NSG member countries that work on consensus. The matter is what cost the US will extract by making India a junior partner in its scheme of things for Asia and the world. For three full years starting the signing of the 18 July 2005 agreement, Washington has worked passionately on India through the White House, State Department and the Pentagon with the stated twin purpose of non-proliferation, and to achieve military interoperability through sales of arms, military exercises and regular visits. The unstated purpose has been to bring India into its embrace so as to influence its foreign policy and national security choices.
Reports suggest that while there are as many as 50 amendments proposed by the member countries to the US-India drafted NSG waiver text, the sticking points are three: a nuclear testing penalty clause, need for periodic review of India’s compliance, and complete ban on transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (E&R) technologies. Let us see what these three issues really mean. The nuclear testing penalty is really a back-door Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which once agreed will lead to greater pressure on India for fissile material cut-off before the treaty is even agreed upon. The so-called periodic review implies stringent Additional Protocol by the IAEA to monitor India’s safeguarded facilities. The IAEA employs three safeguard methods: material accountancy, containment, and surveillance, by making use of four procedures, namely, design review, maintenance of plant operating records, reports on plant operations, and on-site inspections. To undertake the above, two types of inspections are undertaken, routine and special. It is clear that if the NSG members succeed in the periodic review of Indian facilities, in addition to the routine and special inspections, the IAEA will be allowed ad-hoc inspections as well. The third sticking point of ban on E&R technologies has ramifications that go beyond the Indian safeguarded nuclear reactors.
By the E&R technologies, the uranium fuel that will be imported along with the nuclear reactors can be utilised fully and better, as otherwise India will be left with loads of unutilised spent fuel. The enrichment technology uses the nuclear fuel fully, and the main objective of reprocessing is to separate uranium and plutonium from fuel which has been irradiated in a reactor. If the burn-up time in a nuclear reactor is kept low, weapon-grade plutonium is obtained, and by high burn-up time, reactor-grade plutonium is procured. The reactor-grade plutonium thus got can be used in breeder reactors as well. Thus, without the E&R technologies, the imported fuel will not be used fully.
The worry of the NSG members is that even if India is unable to procure weapon-grade plutonium and uranium by controlling the burn-up time of imported E&R technologies, there would be enough internal proliferation. This means that Indian scientists working on E&R technologies at safeguarded facilities will carry the knowledge to the unsafeguarded Indian nuclear reactor facilities to enhance indigenous fissile material production. The other issue connected with allowing export of E&R technologies to India would suggest fewer controls over selling of high and dual use technologies to India. The NSG will certainly not desire that India has access to technologies like formal nuclear weapon states. And this is what Mulfold meant by ‘clean’ and not ‘unconditional’ exception. After all, in the 123 agreement also, the export of reprocessing technologies is to be discussed and formalised after the agreement is reached between India and the US. And last but not the least China has yet not disclosed its cards on the NSG exception for India. It has maintained that global non-proliferation requirement should be respected, which if one goes by the NPT definition, there are only two categories of states, nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. Beijing will definitely not be a cake-walk.Considering that New Delhi has come this far, any strings by the NSG will be unacceptable domestically. What the US would now work upon is to do its best to see India get an acceptable waiver from the NSG. The strings will be worked out in the larger strategic arena away from media glare.

Kashmir: azadi or call to talks

The September issue of FORCE is out. The cover story is on Kashmir. As the current crisis started, liberals in New Delhi started saying that it is time to think about giving Kashmiris the azadi that they seem so intent upon. But the realities of Kashmir are far different from what they appear on television channels. FORCE team spend about a week in August and witnessed the historic rally at Idgah in downtown Srinagar. True, there were chants of freedom and anti-India sloganeering, but for most Kashmiris, azadi today implies freedom from fear: fear of oppression, fear of torture, fear of midnight disappearances. Very few people, including the Separatist/Hurriyat leadership, today thinks of an independent Kashmir, especially in view of the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They understand that independent Kashmir is no longer a viable option. As president National Conference, Omar Abdullah told FORCE in Srinagar, "I keep telling the people that Kashmir can gain independence should Pakistan and India agree; but Kashmir can never gain freedom. There is a huge difference between independence and freedom. People are realising this and the economic blockade would have further reinforced this that you cannot live in isolation. If you are independent and India and Pakistan decide to close off your roads what would you do?" By screaming azadi, the people of Kashmir are urging the government of India to start a dialogue with them. As Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front's Chairman Yasin Malik said, "The government of India should not discredit the institution of dialogue." The government has to realise the fact that there is a need for a final resolution of Kashmir, and that resolution does not imply independence. Time for ad hoc policies is over.