25 August 2009

"Three Presidents and an Aide" by Arshad Sami Khan

Salman Rushdie called Pakistan an “incomplete imagination” at its birth.  Religious affinity brought the nation together.  Differing cultural, linguistic, ethnic, geographic and political affinities are tearing it apart.  Arshad Sami Khan, in his book, provides a ringside view of how this challenge was handled by three Heads of State (Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) for whom Sami was the aide de camp.  Sami is a decorated war hero (fighter pilot in air force) and later a diplomat.

Sami steers clear of the typical pitfalls of memoirs of bystanders to history.  Sami keeps the focus on the three heads of state; their personalities; and their roles in the events that unfolded during their reign.  Ayub is portrayed as a “gentleman officer” with tolerance for the aspirations of his family. Believable. Bhutto is portrayed as an intelligent and cunning politician who could get haughty at times.  Fits.  Yahya is portrayed as a “straight talking army guy” with a teenager’s open mindedness and adventurism; and all rumors about “the fiddle playing Nero when Rome was burning” are dismissed as false.  Not easy to believe.

According to Sami, in 1962, Ayub wanted to open a quick surgical war front (to cut off Kashmir from rest of India and walk away with the contested land) when the Indian army was deeply engaged with China.  According to Ayub, US and UK prevailed on Pakistan to not do this promising to resolve the Kashmir dispute in favor of Pakistan in near future.  Ayub regretted ceding to this pressure.  In 1965, US embassy and State department assured Ayub that if Pakistan invades Kashmir, India would fight in Kashmir theatre alone and not open multiple fronts; and US would provide diplomatic support in international forums for Pakistan’s military operations in Kashmir.  Ostensibly this was the reason Ayub deployed most of his firepower in Kashmir while the X division (defending Lahore) was hosting a football tournament.   However India “declared an all out war”; opened multiple fronts; reached the gates of Lahore and its officers were promising to BBC that they would “drink double pegs in Lahore Gymkhana by midnight”.  Sami says Ayub felt betrayed by the US Ambassador, who was promptly withdrawn from Pakistan.  Some strategic thinker, this Ayub!

Yahya Khan’s strategic mistakes were political.  He was shocked when, in a free and fair elections (for which he deserves credit) the underprivileged majority Bengali Muslims voted Awami league into power.  He instructed his Security Council advisor Major General Umar to ensure that the results are different in the provincial elections that were to follow so that Yahya can discredit Awami League’s victory and retain power with the West.  Hearing the praise for free and fair elections, he revoked the instruction to influence polls and negotiated with Mujib-ur-Rehman for an unconstitutional power sharing.  He should have taken better counsel: from his aide de camp who has a more profound view on making a nation.  Religion alone, according to Sami, is not sufficient as a binding force to make a nation.  Cultural, ethnic, geographic and political affinities are important.  If the founding fathers of Pakistan had designed it as “a loose federation of constitutionally autonomous units” Bengali Muslims would not have separated from Pakistan.  If Sami’s masters had ceded to the rightful demands of Bengalis instead of imprisoning Mujib-ur-Rahman for conspiracy, Pakistan would not have lost its eastern arm.  

Sami narrates one story that sounds uncharacteristic.  When Yahya threatened to walk out of an Islamic summit because the Saudi monarch wanted to invite India (as the country with a large population of Muslims; in fact more than that of Pakistan), King Hussein intervened to apologize confessing he and the Saudi monarch were “conned into” inviting India by the crafty Indian diplomat.  King Hussein offered to declare the Indian diplomat persona non grata for “interfering and misguiding members of the Conference”.  Sami thinks of this as an accomplishment.  Could this be true?  Is ummat al-mu'minin, the Diaspora of Believers in Islam worldwide, defined by politics and not by religion?

10 August 2009

"Making sense of Pakistan" by Farzana Shaikh

Dr Farzana Shaikh (a Ph D from Columbia University and a visitor at Princeton) provides an excellent insight into the evolution of Pakistan as a state and a nation.

Pakistan was born when the minority Muslim community in British India was unified by concerns (about potential oppression in the electoral politics of a democracy) and morphed into a nation with political aspirations. The community had several challenges: lack of territorial contiguity, lack of ethnic homogeneity, differences in culture, differences in language and even differences in the way they practiced Islam. Once the unifying cause of threat from a majority was eliminated, the divisive factors played a bigger role in shaping the identity and future of Pakistan. Pakistan has morphed from the higher ideal of a “homeland for Muslims” to a “frontline state for jehad by the Wahabi Muslims”.

Pakistan, in its attempt to define itself, has disenfranchised to various levels its religious minorities; its sectarian minorities (Ahmediyas, Shias); its ethnic minorities (Bengali Muslims, Sindhi Muslims, Mohajirs); and even segments of its Sunni population (Sufi Muslims and more importantly all women who are no more equal to men under law) veering away from the Universalist message of peaceful Islam. Political leaders and the Army have been eager to legitimize their tenure by whipping up fervor for puritanical Islam or fervor against neighboring India to serve their political causes and have damaged the social fabric of this great community that was once the compassionate and tolerant jewel of the Moghul empire.

However, there are winds of change blowing through the land. There is an increasing emphasis on representative politics, rule of law.

In Farzana Shaikh’s view, Pakistan has to "recast its quest for religious consensus in terms of a cultural heritage rooted in the discourse of Indian Islam to salvage a pluralist alternative consistent with democratic citizenship".

Pakistan may very well find its "identity based on reconciliation of Islam's Universalist message with respect for the rich diversity of its peoples".

A truly remarkable book by this daughter of Pakistan. I wish someone writes about India likewise with equal measures of love and honesty.

09 August 2009

"Caritas in Veritate" by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has recently issued an encyclical (translating to "Charity in Truth") that emphasizes, among other things, ethics in business. The encyclical avers that outsourcing by business enterprises "weakens responsibility towards stakeholders such as workers, suppliers, consumers, natural environment and broader society in favor of shareholders". The Pope does not approve "outsourcing" because it shifts economic activity from one community to another!

Question 1 from a "moral perspective": I can understand someone responsible for a geographic constituency lamenting the loss of "economic activity" to a different geographic constituency. How can someone whose constituency covers the entire world lament loss of jobs from one region to another? Does the Pope care more for stakeholders in one economic region than another?

Question 2 from an "economic perspective": All trades (in goods and services) shift "economic activity" from buyer region to seller region. Outsourcing is just one more form of trade. Does the encyclical apply therefore to all trade? Does this mean it is "Christian" behavior for Indians to not buy American aircraft, Canadian tractors, French wine, German cars or see English movies? If the encyclical does not apply to all trade, is it because the Pope believes these purchases are being made because of superior quality of products/services and not because of value in use? Would the encyclical then exclude "outsourcing" attributable to superior quality of goods and services?

I often imagine what would Jesus Christ do if He were to talk with us today. I am sure, in this instance, he would recognize that outsourcing (a) enhances value to consumer (b) knits people together and (c) spreads wealth more evenly. He would have been happy about the latter two for He is compassionate to all mankind; not just the Asia He hailed from. He would not have had strong opinions about economic value to consumer because he probably would have thought that you should "render unto Caesar things that are Caesar's and render unto God things that are God's".

I sincerely hope it does not take the Church too long to modify its views on outsourcing. St Thomas (the apostle who landed in India twenty centuries back to spread His message) would yearn that for his constituency!

03 August 2009

"Letter to the Editor from Vanni/Sri Lanka" in Kalachuvadu

I felt sad and angry.

It is not easy to tell you how sad I was and how angry I was.

It would be a tad easier if you were a Tamil; if you had a taste for “Kalachuvadu” (“Footprints on sands of time”) the Tamil magazine; if you read an anonymous letter to the editor on what happened in Sri Lanka in the recent past. The letter was 14 pages long and was written by an inmate in a refugee camp in Vanni that holds civilians caught in the war theater. The vivid description of the the last days of the war are very disturbing.

The anonymous writer says:

The Sri Lanka Government, in acquiring control over its territory, has been unmindful of the death of thousands of uninvolved civilians detained in the war theater by LTTE.

LTTE fought for a noble cause; its leaders and cadets gave their lives for the cause. But LTTE made several mistakes including: forced recruitment of "volunteers" to its cadets; forced retention of uninvolved civilians in the war theater as a protection; seeing everyone as either a friend or a foe; elimination of all opponents in Sri Lankan Tamil politics; elimination of any form of dissent; alienation of Tamil Muslims and alienation of India.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka were caught between Schylla and Charybdis; between an unfair majority and ruthless freedom fighters. (Each makes the other a supportable candidate!) Both were successful in creating a setback for the Tamils.

As an Indian, I am not a fan of any freedom fighter movement that kills a leader of my country. (He may or may not have my vote; but he is a fellow citizen and his life is protected by my country).

As a Tamil, I expect the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka to be treated in a fair manner; the same fair treatment I would expect India to provide its minorities.

I am sad and angry.

I hope a leader who understands inclusive politics, who can understand and use international opinion and who can institutionalize the striving for fair treatment emerges to handle the Sri Lanka/Tamil issue.

If that happens to be a Sri Lankan Prime Minister, even better.