June 6, 2011


[The moment of truth is approaching for Obama and his like who preach the high morality of non-violence to the powerless]
 By Pankaj Mishra
The author
At a dark moment in postcolonial history, when many US-backed despots seemed indestructible, the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whose centenary falls this year, wrote: "We shall witness [the day] when the enormous mountains of tyranny blow away like cotton". That miraculous day promised by the poet finally came in Egypt and Tunisia this spring. We have since witnessed many of the world's acknowledged legislators scrambling to get on the right side of history.

Addressing – yet again – the "Muslim world" last month, Barack Obama hailed "the moral force of non-violence", through which "the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades". But Obama failed to acknowledge to his highly politicised audience the fact that the United States enabled, and often required, the "relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity". And he gave no sign that he would respect the moral authority of non-violent mass movements ranged against America's closest allies, India and Israel.

Let's not forget: before the Arab spring of 2011, there was the Kashmiri summer of 2010. Provoked by the killing of a teenage boy in June last year, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets to protest against India's brutal military occupation of the Muslim-majority valley. Summer is the usual "season for a face-off in Kashmir", as the Indian filmmaker Sanjay Kak writes in Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, a lively anthology of young Kashmiri writers, activists, rappers and graphic artists. There is little doubt that Kashmiris, emboldened by the Arab spring, will again stage massive demonstrations in their towns and villages.

The chances of a third intifada in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are just as high, as Binyamin Netanyahu devises ever greater hurdles to self-determination for his Arab subjects. In the next few months we will see more clearly than before how India and Israel – billed respectively as the world's largest, and the Middle East's only, democracy – respond to unarmed mass movements.

Certainly, they have shown no sign of fresh thinking, even as the victims of their occupations grow more inventive. India's security establishment fell back last summer on reflexes conditioned by two decades of fighting a militant insurgency during which more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have died; 8,000 have "disappeared", often into mass graves; and innumerable others have been subjected to "systematic torture", according to a rare public outburst by the Red Cross.

Last summer soldiers fired at demonstrators, killing 112 civilians, mostly teenagers (Kashmir has many of its own Hamza al-Khatibs). The government imposed round-the-clock curfews (one village was locked in for six weeks) and banned text messaging on mobile phones, while police spies infiltrated Facebook groups in an attempt to hunt down demo organisers.

Faced with non-violent Palestinian protesters, who correctly deduce that their methods have a better chance of influencing world opinion than Hamas's suicide bombers, Israel hasn't varied its repertoire of repression much. For years now the West Bank village of Bil'in has campaigned against the Israeli government's appropriation of its lands. Israel responded by jailing its leader, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, often called the Palestinian Gandhi, for 15 months – "solely", according to Amnesty International "for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and assembly".

Encouraged by Egyptians and Tunisians, masses of unarmed Palestinians marched last month to the borders of Israel to mark the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians in Mandate Palestine. Israeli soldiers met them with live gunfire, killing more than a dozen and wounding scores of others.

Of course, occupations damage the occupier no less than the occupied. Revanchist nationalism has corroded democratic and secular institutions in both India and Israel, which, not surprisingly, have developed a strong military relationship in the recent decade. Hindu nationalists feel an elective affinity with Israel for its apparently uncompromising attitude to Muslim minorities. In 1993 the then Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, reportedly advised the Hindu nationalist leader LK Advani to alter the demographic composition of the mutinous Kashmir valley by settling Hindus there. Advani, later India's deputy prime minister, fondly quoted from Netanyahu's book on terrorism, given to him by the author. Israeli counter-insurgency experts now regularly visit Kashmir.

India and Israel, both products of botched imperial partitions, were the Bush government's two most avid international boosters of the catastrophic "war on terror", fluently deploying the ideological templates of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – democracy versus terrorism, liberalism versus fundamentalism – to justify their own occupations.

Aggressively jingoistic media helped hardliners in both countries to demonise their political adversaries as terrorists or terrorist sympathisers. Meanwhile, liberal opinion grew almost inaudible. Writing recently in the New York Review of Books, the Israeli scholar and activist David Shulman lamented: "Israeli academic intellectuals as a group have failed to mount a sustained and politically effective protest against the occupation." This is also true of the Indian intelligentsia.

So the burden of non-violent protest in India and Israel has fallen almost entirely on the victims of the occupation. Indeed, many liberal commentators try to condone their passivity by deploring the absence of non-violent protests in Kashmir and Palestine (never mind the fact that the first intifadas in both places in the late 1980s turned violent only after being savagely suppressed).

The moment of truth is fast approaching for those powerful men who preach the high morality of non-violence to the powerless. Only an American veto seems likely to prevent the member states of the UN from declaring a new Palestinian state in September. But Palestinians may rise up against their colonial overlords well before this expected rejection. And, as the political philosopher Michael Walzer points out, Israel would then confront "something radically new. How can it resist masses of men and women, children too, just walking across the ceasefire lines?"

The tactics of young tech-savvy Kashmiris have already confused and bewildered the Indian government, whose recent actions – censoring the Economist, forcing spying rights out of BlackBerry and Google – evoke the last-minute desperation of the Arab world's mukhabarat (secret police) states. The mass movement in Kashmir, which has emerged after two decades of a futile militant insurgency and has no compromising links to Pakistan, poses, as the Kashmiri journalist Parvaiz Bukhari writes in Until My Freedom Has Come, an unprecedented "moral challenge to New Delhi's military domination over the region".

The stage is set, then, for a summer of protests, of unarmed masses rising up to express, in Obama's words, "a longing for freedom that has built up for years". They may well meet with live bullets rather than offers of negotiation and compromise. It will be fascinating to see if Obama makes good his claim last month that the United States "opposes violence and repression" and "welcomes change that advances self-determination". Certainly, as the corpses of the Palestinian and Kashmiri Hamza al-Khatibs pile up, there will be the usual flurry of intellectual rationalisations – the bogey of Islamic terror will again be invoked. And we will witness how the "enormous mountains of tyranny" in the world's greatest democracies do not blow away like cotton.

@ The Guardian

[With Bin Laden dead and the White House determined to get the bulk of American troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, some in Washington make the case that the ties that bind the United States to Pakistan are no longer so strong, and that the allegiances that have entangled them over the past decade could be rearranged.]
WASHINGTON — America’s tormented relationship with Pakistan has long had the subtlety of a professional wrestling match. So when frayed relations turned openly hostile in recent weeks, it was hardly a surprise to see Pakistani officials flirt publicly with China, America’s biggest rival in Asia.
Within days of the American raid deep inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistani officials travelled to Beijing and asked their “Chinese brothers” to operate a strategic port on the Arabian Sea. They also said the two countries were planning oil pipelines, railroads and even military bases in Pakistan for the Chinese Navy.
The Pakistani officials had already advised their neighbors in Afghanistan — where Americans have committed billions of dollars and lost more than 1,500 lives since 2001 — that Afghanistan would be better off placing long-term bets on an ascendant China, rather than a declining United States.
With the tortured marriage clearly in trouble, Islamabad has sent signals that it is ready to start seeing other people. Can Washington afford to do the same? And just how far could Pakistan get by playing the field?
With Bin Laden dead and the White House determined to get the bulk of American troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, some in Washington make the case that the ties that bind the United States to Pakistan are no longer so strong, and that the allegiances that have entangled them over the past decade could be rearranged.
There are new dynamics now at play, noticed by analysts who liken this era to the years immediately after the cold war. For decades, fears of Soviet expansion had brought the United States and Pakistan into a tight embrace, but those ties weakened and ultimately broke once that threat had passed. Similarly, an American withdrawal from Afghanistan could put greater distance between the two nations and allow ties between Washington and New Delhi to grow.
“As we begin to rely on Pakistan less to get supplies into Afghanistan, America’s axis with India will continue to strengthen,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official now at the Brookings Institution. If this happened, he said, it would only be natural for Islamabad to try to grow even closer to China and Saudi Arabia, two longtime allies and trading partners.
But even then, there would be limits on how much America might suffer. Some experts say that a network of new regional relationships with Pakistan actually might help America pursue its deepest interests in the region.
Don’t expect an open break tomorrow, of course. For the moment, the United States and Pakistan remain bound to each other. As long as war rages in Afghanistan, the United States will rely on routes in Pakistan to ferry in military supplies, and to keep pressure on militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And the Pakistani government still needs the billions that come each year from Washington to, among other things, keep pace in its arms race with India.
Once the war in Afghanistan winds down, though, the relationship could change. Some analysts foresee a new Great Game for dominance in the region, with stakes like billions of dollars in mineral wealth in Afghanistan, access to vital shipping lanes, and a need to monitor the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan.
Some experts say that a bit of breathing room in the American-Pakistani relationship — managed responsibly — might be just the right therapy for the partnership. In the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, both the Bush and Obama administrations have made dozens of official visits to Islamabad to implore, lecture or demand that Pakistan sever ties to militant groups, even attaching strings (without ever really pulling them) to billions of dollars in annual aid. Pakistan’s reaction seems to have been little more than resentment of its dependency on Washington, and a determination to pursue an independent course, whether by hiding some of its intelligence agency’s activities or by openly hinting at taking another partner, like China.
One question, however, is whether China sees such a partnership quite the same way.
Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said that on a recent trip to Islamabad he was struck by how openly Pakistani officials talked about China as a promising strategic alternative to the United States. But he also said that travelling to Beijing made it clear to him that the Chinese didn’t return the sentiments.
“The Chinese are simply not interested in playing Pakistan’s game, and they don’t want to be played as a card against the United States,” said Mr. Markey.
What they might be willing to do, however, is cooperate in creating new opportunities to stabilize the region. Instead of the United States, China and others being at cross-purposes there, the regional powers might team up not only in trying to keep a lid on Pakistan’s combustible dynamics, but also on the thorny problem of the endgame in Afghanistan.
As much as India, China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia are all jockeying for influence inside Afghanistan, most experts believe that they all fear a rushed American military pullout and a chaotic power vacuum that might follow.
These fears have as much to do with economics as security. India, China and Russia, for example, have been exploring ways to tap vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan, and have supported major road projects that could again make Afghanistan a regional transportation hub. But that goal could be reached only when the shooting stops, and all the powers therefore have an interest in pushing the Afghan government, the Taliban, and some of the other warring Afghan parties toward a peace.
If such a patch of common ground could be cleared, it might also be used for influencing Pakistan to exert leverage over the Taliban, Haqqani network and other Pashtun groups with which it has historical ties. From the American point of view, that would mean turning Pakistan’s years of double-dealing to positive effect.
Some people who have spent time in the trenches of United States-Pakistan diplomacy said that as tempting as it might be just to walk away from the headaches of the relationship, a far better approach would be to bring others into the game.
Vali Nasr, who left the State Department in April after working for the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, said that the “wheels have jammed” in the alliance: Because neither side trusts each other, the United States cannot exert any of the leverage it has with Pakistan.
As he sees it, the United States could help escape the pathologies of the alliance by convincing China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations like the United Arab Emirates that it would be truly ugly if Pakistan were to implode.
It’s a scare tactic, he admits. But, with a battle for Pakistan’s soul being waged among its Islamists, the security establishment, and a moderate middle class, Mr. Nasr says he believes that an unraveling in Pakistan is a clear possibility. At the least, he said, this approach might allow America to coordinate its efforts with countries that Pakistan is more eager to listen to.
He also wants to ensure that the alliance can survive in the future.
“We’re behaving as if killing Bin Laden was our last piece of business in Pakistan, and that’s incredibly dangerous,” he said.
After all, the United States beat a hasty exit from the region when the Soviets left Afghanistan, with chaotic results. This time around, the region is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and it could become far messier.