Guest Post: India, a wounded civilization

Rohit will (once technical issues are sorted out) be joining our stable of writers.  Until that happens, he asked me to post this from his own blog:
(again, to be clear, this is not my writing, it is written by Rohit Pradhan)

India: A Wounded Civilization

The facts are starkly clear. The Bangalore branch of a storied bakery chain based in Hyderabad was targeted by certain individuals who forced it to cover Karachi. And replace it with the Indian flag. Never mind that the extant organization was founded by a post-partition Sindhi immigrant in the memory of the land he had been forced to flee in the orgy of the violence which followed India’s partition. The parent chain issued an abject clarification on multiple social media channels reiterating its Indian roots. It wasn’t a homage to Karachi which happens to fall in the Pakistan of 2019 but the city which was home for generations of the ancestors of its founder. The utter absurdity of this entire episode is beyond belief.

Perhaps, one is reading too much into a single incident. Perhaps, in a country of 1.3 billion people, it is easy enough to assemble a mob of few who are offended by everything. Or anything. Or perhaps it is not as singular as it may superficially appear and there are some larger lessons to learn here. Three points follow.

First, Karachi bakery has been forced to issue that absolutely shameful apologia because no one expects the Indian state to protect it from the anger of righteous mobs. The mobs which can cite whatever perverse version of nationalism they are extolling currently. And while the blame for it majorly goes to the ruling dispensation, the fact that its establishment was targeted in a state ruled by the opposition simply can’t be ignored. One formation may encourage this perversity; the other side has mostly abdicated its responsibilities so fearful it is now of rocking the prevailing doctrine. Politics is not a purist sport but if you can’t draw even the most basic distinctions, then it may not be one participating in as well. This is no attempt at false equivalence but underlining the fact that a reassurance from the leaders of Karnataka would have gone a long way in assuaging the frayed nerves of a bewildered organization caught in the middle of India’s cultural wars.

Second, the kind of nihilistic nationalism which thought it fit to assault a blameless commercial organization has sadly received a major assist from the social media. Where hunting down alleged anti-nationals has become a major sport and a pathway to gain popularity, cheap retweets, and potentially significant monetary rewards. The more strident the tone; the more heartfelt the criticism is the absurd logic where even a national icon like Sachin Tendulkar can no longer be insulated by his humongous achievements and services to India.

Liberals can’t escape the blame entirely here: their previous prescriptions of people-to-people contact or decrying war as a priori have failed abjectly to deliver any sensible results. They have long dominated the conversation utilizing similarly convenient rhetorical tools dismissing every criticism as warmongering.

As the narrative has dramatically shifted, they have no epistemological counter to this closing of the Indian mind. In this new world, they have failed to craft a new language which can counter this toxic and self-defeating nationalism. The neo-Right has intuitively understood and adroitly exploited the frustration of ordinary Indians. The liberals have withdrawn from this tough fight favoring the easy environs of their echo chambers facilitating the further normative dominance of this singular version of nationalism. Unless they are prepared to embrace patriotism located in the Indian genius and not their ersatz explication, their further disfranchisement is assured.

Third, writing in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has recently argued that India has lost to Pakistan. If further evidence was required of that interrogation of India’s deep psychological wounds: Karachi bakery provides the perfect instance. The anger, the frustration, the fecklessness, the sense of being utterly helpless have found the fullest expression. A country which in its own estimation deserves a place among the comity of the most powerful nations in the world has been utterly shown up. And it has nowhere to hide: unable to counter repeated terror attacks from an apparent also-ran which it had long left behind in its wake.

It maybe couched in the braggadocio of sneering twitter insults and memes recalling 1971, but no one should confuse it for what it really is: utter and complete surrender. Unable to punish the external perpetrators, its sullen frustration has turned inwards: manufacturing villains where none exist. The social media nationalists would indubitably disagree but this is weakness masquerading as strength and vicious backlash corralling the weak. A schoolyard bully lashing out at the vulnerable because even as its parades its strength, it is utterly aware of its decrepitude. A wounded civilization too proud to recognize its own ruins.

It makes one go back and read V S Naipaul’s An area of darkness A stronger criticism of the Indian civilization is yet to be written and its searing postmortem of its psychological wounds has never been surpassed. Unfortunately, because Naipaul was so unsympathetic a figure both as a writer and in his writings, both Indian liberals and nationalists have often misunderstand him as a brown sahib, and not what he really was: a man who wanted to embrace the land of his ancestors, and whose love story went awry.

There is anger, and then there is anger. There is the fury of Naipaul which uses a surgeons’ scalpel to bludgeon a country which had left him frustrated and confused. But it still stems from a deep reservoir of affection almost willing it to do better. And there is anger which is self-destructive; which appeals to the most baser instincts; and which simply can’t countenance the wisdom of a better India.

India must choose wisely. And must select which version serves it better: the defeatism of the inward looking malignancy which has long given up on India, and must therefore pander or the the one which pricks and raves and rants because giving up is simply not an option. And a better future might still arise from the debris of an eviscerated India. And from recognition of its weaknesses.

Naipaul’s next two Indian travelogues were more hopeful of its future. Perhaps therein lies redemption.

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In memoriam: Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir.

From Dr Hamid Hussain. I would add that I interacted with Brigadier Munir on social media and found him always polite, inquisitive and open to many different points of view. We had talked about meeting the next time I was in Islamabad, but sadly that will not happen as Brig. Munir took his own life on March 15th (and blamed harassment by the National Accountability Bureau in a suicide note). Rest in peace. Very very sad news.

Brigadier ® Asad Munir

Hamid Hussain

 In early hours of March 15, 2019, Brigadier (R) Asad Munir committed suicide. In his suicide note, he mentioned harassment by National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Thus, extinguished the flicker of light of a fine officer and gentleman.  I have known Asad for about ten years when in 2009 he contacted me.  Few years ago, I spent a whole day with him at his apartment in Islamabad where he committed suicide. We periodically interacted and discussed issues of regional security. On my last visit to Pakistan in 2018, due to my hectic schedule, I could not meet him. 

 Asad joined Ist Special Short Course (SSC) of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and commissioned in 1972 in Baluch Regiment. He commanded an infantry Brigade where his division commander was General Pervez Musharraf.  The other brigade commander under Musharraf was late Major General Amir Faisal Alvi (Alvi was assassinated in Islamabad in November 2008).  Asad served as head of Military Intelligence (MI) of North West Frontier Province now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).  Asad was close to General Ehsan ul Haq then serving as Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, there was a major shuffle of senior brass.  Ehsan was brought in as Director General Inter Service Intelligence (DGISI).  Ehsan then brought Asad as head of ISI detachment of KPK.  In this capacity, Asad was instrumental in coordinating with Americans to catch fleeing al-Qaeda leaders.  After retirement, he served as member of Capital Development Authority (CDA) Islamabad and deputy director National Accountability Bureau (NAB).  He continued his efforts about reforms in tribal areas.  In early 2018, army chief met with a dozen Pashtun retired officers including Asad for their input about reforms in tribal areas.

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Continue reading “In memoriam: Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir.”

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Pakistan, India, Israel..

From Dr Hamid Hussain

There are some discrepancies in Indian and Pakistani narratives that give rise to many speculations.  I have also heard some rumors about an Israeli pilot in Pakistani custody but hard to confirm or make sense.  One Pakistani former senior diplomat has alluded to this.  If he is wrong then it is most irresponsible on his part. If true then in these days of Wikileaks and anointing of saints of modern day technology; St. Chelsey Manning and St. Julian Assange, it can not be kept secret for long.  In hyper-nationalist fervor, it is very easy for people to go ‘off the rails’ and modern technology running away with ‘fake news’.

It will be extremely irresponsible on part pf Israelis to jump into India-Pakistan fray directly by allowing its pilots to fly combat missions.  As India buys a lot of defense equipment therefore many Israeli technicians are likely helping Indian forces in training and maintenance of defense equipment which is different.  Israel is very good at ‘bridge technologies’ where advanced electronics of either American origin or indigenous made are retro-fitted in Russian products to improve their capability.  Indian inventory is predominantly Russian therefore it makes sense for Indian-Israeli cooperation in this arena.  India improves its defense capability although in my view only marginally and Israel finds a lucrative market for its defense industry.  Nothing wrong as it is in the interest of both parties. Continue reading “Pakistan, India, Israel..”

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BrownCast Podcast episode 22: Ajay Verghese on pre-colonial India, Hindus, Muslims, etc

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…). Would appreciate more positive reviews.

Today we talk to Ajay Verghese; Ajay is an assistant professor of political science at UC Riverside and has written extensively about ethnic and religious conflicts in pre-colonial, colonial (i.e. British Colonial, not earlier Turko-Mughal colonists) and independent India. We talk about Hindus, Muslims, religious conversion, conflicts, and other fun stuff.

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Review: Persian Fire

This book is basically a fun read. It covers both the Persian and the Greek side of the Greco-Persian wars quite well but I have to take away one star for Tom Holland’s (sometime mischievous or even tongue-in-cheek) propagandist style. But still, he has done his research and is fun to read, with quotes and anecdotes that enliven this history and bring it to life.
He describes the rise of the Persians and the creation of the first great world empire by Cyrus. This empire proceeded to conquer most of Asia minor (modern Turkey east of Istanbul) including multiple Greek city states (the Ionians). Holland describes the rise of the various Greek city states, with most of the attention focused on Sparta and Athens.The revolt of some of these cities against their Persian overlords and the burning of the Persian regional capital of Sardis triggered the first Persian invasion of mainland Greece, which ended with Athens historic victory at Marathon. The Persians came back with a huge army under Xerxes and as you may expect, battles like Thermopylae and Salamis get the full Tom Holland treatment; drama, suspense, objective facts and light-hearted propaganda. The book ends with the final Persian defeat and a brief survey of the (short lived) peace, prosperity and cultural efflorescence that ensued.
The book is an excellent account of the Greco-Roman wars and their background and ends on a high note. In a way, this is a bit misleading because a far greater and far more devastating war (the Peloponesian war) would break out within a few decades, so this book can be criticized for exaggerating the significance of the Persian invasion in Greek (and by extension, later Western) history. But that is a question for another day. If you have vaguely heard of Marathon, Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans, Themistocles or Salamis, but don’t really know what happened, this is the book for you. If you are ancient history nerd then you probably know all this and more, but even those who know most of the story may enjoy this effervescent and light-hearted retelling of this famous story.

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India and Pakistan; the Fog of War

On the 14th of February 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed when a convoy of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was attacked in Pulwama (Indian Kashmir) by a vehicle borne suicide bomber. The attack was immediately claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist organization called the Jaish e Mohammed (JEM, the army of Mohammed), who released a video of the suicide bomber, a local lad from southern Kashmir. JEM is led by a Pakistani cleric named Masood Azhar who had been captured by Indian security forces in the 90s in Indian Kashmir, but was released in exchange for the hostages on board an Indian airlines aircraft in December 1999. After his release he went to Pakistan and set up his Jihadist terrorist organization and has operated openly in the country ever since.

This is, of course, not the first major terrorist attack in India to be claimed by an organization based in Pakistan. JEM has been accused in the past of organizing an attack on the Indian parliament as well as many attacks in Indian Kashmir. And the biggest attack ever launched in India by Pakistani-based terrorists was the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, in the course of which ten terrorists wreaked havoc in the city of Mumbai and killed at least 165 people, including a few Israelis and Americans. Some of the more prominent attacks were followed by Indian threats of military action against Pakistan but in the end the Indian establishment opted on all of those occasions to try and isolate Pakistan diplomatically but stepped back from direct military action. This option was chosen not because of any residual Gandhian hangover in India but because of two interlocking factors: Continue reading “India and Pakistan; the Fog of War”

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Afghan Peace Process; Postscript

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Following was an exchange with an old Afghan hand of ISI.  It may be of interest to some.  His comments in normal font; mine in bold.

26 February 2019

 Thanks Sir for opening more windows;  My comments essentially of a wandering dervish in red in your main text;

Hamid

——-

Dear HH,

A very thought provoking analysis with indepth knowledge of situation in Afghanistan.  My take:

  1. No party can have total control over Afghanistan particularly psuedo democracy.(You are correct that no single party is strong enough to impose its will on the whole country.  In good old times, a chap like Amir Abdur Rahman put the fear of God by beheading a large number of tribal leaders and exiling others far away from their homeland.  In this way, he was able to impose a central state on reluctant Afghans. Times have changed.  It is time for a grand bargain and compromise although I’m not sure whether Afghans are ready for it.)
  2. Taliban will emerge as the largest group but will not be allowed total control by big powers. Fear CIS & Russians from fundamentalists will keep them supporting tajik and uzbek groups.(Correct.  Interests of many countries are divergent and each state will support its own proxy.  It is fine as long it is for political jockeying but all need to be mindful that one heated argument after endless cups of green tea can tempt one to reach for AK-47.  This urge needs to be controlled. If not then;

aur ja’am toteein gein; iss sharab khane mein)

3.hazaras & other shia gps having tasted part  powers will not easily succumb to Taliban rule. (Another reason for all Afghans to go for a bargain.  Like many highlanders, Afghans of all ethnicities have a distorted sense of honor.  They are willing to settle scores with gun for whatever perverted reason.  However, their grandmother is begging on the street, young son is molested in coal mines of Baluchistan (Shahrag mining town in Baluchistan is the most heinous place in this regard where boys as young as 8 or 9 from FATA and Afghanistan are being molested on daily basis) or daughters going into prostitution to put food on the table in Pakistan & Iran, and their honor is nowhere to be found. Reminds me the words of an American who had worked in Afghanistan.  He lived with his family among Afghans and worked in 1970s in Jalalabad for several years.  In mid 2000s, he went back for a trip to Jalalabad. He said that Afghans were poorer then but had honor.  Now they are richer but have lost their honor”. Hegel defined courage and bravery as “Courage among civilized peoples consists in a readiness to sacrifice oneself for the political community) Continue reading “Afghan Peace Process; Postscript”

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BrownCast Podcast episode 18: India and Pakistan; Confrontation in the Subcontinent

Image result for kashmir crisisAnother BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above. You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…). Would appreciate more positive reviews.

In this episode Razib and Omar talk to Major Amin and Dr Hamid Hussain. Major Amin and Dr Hamid are familiar to our readers for their regular contributions on military history. In this episode we discuss the current India-Pakistan confrontation and what comes next. Events may have moved on even as this gets posted, but I am sure listeners will find it an interesting review of the military and political aspects of the crisis.

Postscript: I may have been too hasty in concluding that only one plane was lost that day. It seems that witness accounts and initial Pakistani claims all mention two aircraft. Pakistan says that was another Indian plane, Indians say it was a PAF F-16. Right now, all we can say is that Abhinandan’s MiG 21 crashed without a doubt.. what happened to the second plane and who was it? We don’t know yet for sure.

Note from Razib: I tried my best, but there were a few issues with the sound on this podcast. But since the substance is timely and hard to find elsewhere I think it’s worth it!

Image result for kashmir crisis

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Shatranj Ke KhilaRi (The Chess Players)

I just happened to catch Shatranj Ke KhilaRi on youtube (you can see the whole movie on youtube, though I am not sure if there is a free subtitled version.. for that you may have to pay). I saw this movie in the 1980s and I remember watching it as:

  1. A Satyajit Ray movie. Hence serious, arty. Deep.
  2. A movie that (brilliantly, obviously since it was by Satyajit Ray, see above) captured the (unequal) chess match between the perfidious English and the decadent Indian nobility. . i.e. a “history movie” that tells us something profound about the British conquest of India.
  3. A movie with a message.

Now I saw it after 35 years and it seems to me that these are exactly the worst things about the movie. It is in fact a VERY funny, beautifully directed, brilliantly acted period piece that anyone can enjoy without thinking “art movie”.  But it is NOT a good depiction of how and why the British conquered India. The annexation of Oudh was just that, the annexation of Oudh. Wajid Ali Shah was a very unique personality, a gentleman and a patron of the arts, but hardly a real ruler. His deposition did not require any great chess move. The Oudh nobility had decayed long before this event and the conversion of Oudh from indirect rule (with British officers manning the Oudh army and supervising tax collection, etc) to direct EIC rule was typical of many similarly decayed nawab-doms, but NOT typical of the British conquest of India. It may be that the decaying hulk of the Mughal empire was just as depicted in that movie, but the Mughals did not rule most of India by that time. The stylized story of perfidious albion conquering the decaying Mughals was true enough of Bengal, Bihar and Oudh, but India is much more than that…The conquest of most of it was a much more serious affair, fought against harder men than Wajid Ali Shah (Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan, the Marathas, the Sikh Empire, etc). It was an unequal contest in the sense that Europeans in general were far more advanced in science, state organization and military arts, but some of the rulers who held real power in their domains (Marathas, Sikhs, Mysore, Nizam of Haiderabad, even Nepal) did make efforts to modernize their military and many of them did put up a fight. They did not lose because they were composing music, organizing kathak dance or playing chess, they lost because they were disunited, and the British proved better than them at most things that matter in statecraft. To take this movie as a metaphor for that struggle or as a good depiction of it is a disservice to history. This may be a good enough description of the annexation of Oudh, but every reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes seems to take it as a great depiction of the British conquest of India, which seems wrong to me.

That said, it is still a good movie. Ignore the politics, enjoy the acting, the comedy, the dialog. Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffery are both great as the aristocats playing chess while their wives have affairs or get sexually frustrated, Victor Bannerjee as the prime minister, Shabana Azmi as the wife, all do a great job, though the best performance is by Amjad Khan as Wajid Ali Shah.  Tom Alter (the late American-Indian actor.. I assume that would be the term; if an Indian born in America is Indian-American, then an American born in India would be American-Indian?) is also good as the Urdu speaking English officer advising General Outram.

My favorite dialog: Wajid Ali Shah asking his prime minister why he is crying? Did Outram recite some poetry or sing a song to him? because only music and poetry can bring a real man to tears!

The hilarious cuckolding scene:

Complete Movie:

Postscript: A few links to reviews from the time

New York Times. 

BBC

Washington Post (enriched by the comprehension of an exceptional film artist, who perceives clearly what this historical parable signifies for his country and his compatriots.)

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Afghan Peace Process

From Dr Hamid Hussain

My two cents of Afghan peace process.  It is based on my own limited perspective informed by regular travels to the region and interaction with many including Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans, Indians etc.  Many have been kind to candidly share their views and not ‘official’ narrative as well as hopes and aspirations of common people in streets and bazaars that they shared with me.

Hamid

Making Peace with Broken Pieces – Afghan Peace Process

Hamid Hussain

 “There is nothing further here for a warrior.  We drive bargains; old men’s work.  Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men; courage and hope for the future.  Then old men make the peace.  The vices of peace are the vices of old men; mistrust and caution.  It must be so”.   Prince Feisal (Sir Alec Guinness) to T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) in Lawrence of Arabia.

In the last few months, a new window opened in the seventeen years old war in Afghanistan. There was breakthrough with first serious efforts of direct negotiations between United States (U.S.) and main militant group Taliban.  It was President Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan that got the ball rolling.  He made this decision without consulting any other government agency. Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department view rapid withdrawal as a recipe for disaster.  Trump appointed former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and an Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad nick named Zal to spearhead this effort.  Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar worked as intermediaries and a bridge between Taliban, Pakistan and Americans.

Negotiations between Taliban and Unites States is only one dimension of a complex conflict.  Taliban’s strategy is simple in its execution.  It used its committed cadre of fighters and support structure in Pakistan to escalate violence to a level to achieve two goals.  First to sow enough fear and uncertainty among Afghans that will undermine the efficiency and to some extent legitimacy of the government.  Another objective is to convince fellow Afghans that without giving them a share in power and economic pie, Afghans will never see peace.  Initially, behind the scene, questions were raised by Americans whether Taliban are a unified entity to work with.  Taliban responded by announcing a three days ceasefire during Eid festival.  There were no attacks all over the country proving their point that they have a firm command and control system and all fighters follow the leadership.  When United States announced troop withdrawal plan, Taliban thought that by directly negotiating they will get the credit and fulfill one of their objectives of forcing foreign troop withdrawal.  This will help them to carve out a much larger share in power after American withdrawal. Another factor was intense pressure on Taliban from Pakistan and Arab countries.  Agreeing to direct negotiations with Americans, Taliban placated both parties and if no agreement is reached, they can claim that they entered in negotiations with good faith and put the blame of failure at American doorstep. From U.S. point of view, there is a narrow window of about six months. Domestic troubles of President Trump will take a sharp turn with completion of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s work.  In addition, presidential campaign will start in the fall of 2019 and these two factors will suck all the oxygen in White House.  Like many other foreign policy issues, Afghanistan will also recede in the background.   Continue reading “Afghan Peace Process”

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