Syed Asif Ibrahim
The appointment of a Muslim to the head of India’s internal spook agency, the Intelligence Bureau, has caused a bit of a stir. Syed Asif Ibrahim is the first Muslim to head the Bureau, and given that a lot of its work is directed against Islamists of one stripe or another, there is something symbolic in that. Some have seen this as a shrewd political move by the Congress government, since its main opposition is the Hindu nationalist BJP, which (unsurprisingly) doesn’t get on quite so well with India’s 177 million Muslims (it’s good to have a loyal intelligence man on your side ahead of a general election). But others have seen the appointment as a breakthrough for the Muslim community, which remains under-represented in official positions and fares poorly on almost every development indicator.
I disagree that this marks any kind of significant breaking down of traditional social boundaries. India’s elite no longer faces anything like the prejudice experienced by the country’s poor majority. The equality of castes, religions and genders that was enshrined in India’s constitution has come true for those with enough money to transcend their traditional identities. This has been the case for a long time — look at this example from the 1971 war with Pakistan (from Kapil Komireddi’s excellent article on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons):
None of the men who were leading India’s forces at the time were Hindu. India’s air marshal was a Muslim (Idris Latif); the commander of its ground forces in Bangladesh was a Sikh (JS Aurora); the chief of the armed forces was a Parsi (Sam Manekshaw); and the strategist who planned the capture of Dhaka was Jewish (JFR Jacob).
A similar point can be made about women. India ranked 129th out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index last year. And yet, women are extremely well represented in top positions. The (arguably) most powerful person in the whole country is a woman: Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party. The head of the opposition in parliament is female, and women lead some of the most important states: West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and, until recently, Uttar Pradesh.
It is further down the social ladder that discrimination remains a problem. In an almost zero sum world in which hundreds of millions of desperately poor people are competing for minimal resources and scant opportunities, many jealously guard the small social benefits conferred by caste or religion or gender as a way of staying at least marginally ahead of those on the rungs below. These distinctions are often exacerbated by politicians — either intentionally to build a block of guaranteed voters from a certain group, or unintentionally through welfare schemes that are designed to improve the lot of backward groups but which end up hardening those boundaries in the process.
The poor face huge obstacles to advancement primarily as a result of their poor nutrition and education at young ages. Impoverished Muslim communities face even tougher conditions in attempting to break out of their traditionally low status. I haven’t found an extensive bio of the new Intelligence Bureau chief yet — perhaps he worked his way up from the worst of ghettos. I doubt it. In any case, by the time he had made it into the more senior ranks of officialdom, he was already in the rarefied air of the elite – a place where the giddy dreams of India’s founders can actually come true.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Bangladesh, BJP, caste, congress, discrimination, gender, Hindu nationalist, india, intelligence bureau, muslim, Pakistan, Poverty, prejudice, religion, Sonia Gandhi, spook, spy, Syed Asif Ibrahim, women
The hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is a good PR result for the Indian justice system, but does nothing to improve India’s security and makes it even less likely that the masterminds of the attack will be brought to justice. That may work in the government’s favour.
India’s judicial system is a lumbering beast – trials can take years to reach their conclusion amid a backlog estimated at around 30 million cases. India retains the death penalty, but mostly because no one wants to appear weak by calling for its abolition. Only one execution has been carried out in the past 15 years (a former security guard hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl).
So with a trial that clocked in at just over three years, and a sentence that was carried out just six months later, the case certainly stands out. The president rejected his mercy plea on 5 November and he was secretly hanged in Pune jail on Wednesday. A token offer was made for Pakistan to reclaim the body, which will no doubt be ignored.
For once, the government looks decisive and got results. The anniversary of the Mumbai attacks is usually an occasion for the media to rake over the many embarrassing failures of the police and authorities at the time. As Sandipan Deb pointed out in Mint today, carrying out the execution just a few days before the fourth anniversary is a good way to deflect some of that criticism. We might even forget about the National Counter-Terrorism Centre and other much-needed security reforms that were repeatedly promised and never delivered.
The execution was primarily about revenge. Many were today disappointed that the hanging didn’t take place in a public square, perhaps hoping for some kind of communal hysteria – tearing his body to pieces, smearing his blood on their faces and urinating on the mutilated corpse. Certainly, it had nothing to do with the official justification behind executions that they act as a deterrent to future offenders. As many people have pointed out on social media today, Kasab went into this operation hoping to die, as will any future jihadists of his kind.
There is also the question of how this affects the broader investigation into the attacks. Kasab had probably provided as much information on their planning as he was ever likely to divulge. Nonetheless, his death closes off forever the one source of living knowledge in Indian custody.
In a way, this may prove useful to the Indian government. Its attempts to pressure the Pakistan government into co-operating with the investigation have made barely any progress, and this has hampered the broader peace negotiations that resumed in 2011. India is desperate to move beyond the endless bickering with its difficult neighbour. It wants normal trade relations, security in Kashmir, and the chance to engage with Afghanistan without fear of triggering a proxy war. It must be clear to the Indian government that they will never get a satisfactory response from Pakistan in bringing to justice the plotters of the Mumbai attacks. At some point, a line will have to be drawn in the sand, and that starts by burying the painful reminder that was sat in a Pune cell.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged 2008, attacks, execution, Insurgency, kasab, militants, Mumbai, negotiations, Pakistan, peace, Pune, terror, terrorism
GOVERNMENT CENSORS MAOIST REPORT – Tehelka have managed to get hold of a crucial section from a report that the government didn’t want released. It’s from a report about the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, a piece of legislation which is supposed to give tribes more power to govern themselves and control their land. The chapter in question (which you can read here) shows how the abject failure to properly implement this Act has fuelled left-wing extremism. Typically, no one is accepting the blame. It’s all stupidly pointless – the government has released official reports before detailing their abject failings and how it contributes to the insurgency, although I suppose that was before their military strategy was also found to be a shambles. I’ll write about the missing chapter tomorrow.
AL QAEDA VS LeT IN INDIA – Praveen Swami discusses the announcement that Al Qaeda have turned their attention to India, which I mentioned the other day. He makes the interesting argument that this is a direct threat to Lashkar-e-Taiba – an attempt to muscle in on their territory at a time when they are being criticised for sitting on their laurels. He has these quotes from the Al Qaeda recording, which indicate that AQ feels the need to justify its entry into India along anti-Semitic lines:
“I bring you the good tidings,” he said, “that last February’s India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital [sic., throughout], in the area of the German bakeries — a fact that the enemy tried to hide — and close to 20 Jews were killed in the operation, a majority of them from their so-called statelet, Israel. The person who carried out this operation was a heroic soldier from the ‘Soldiers of the Sacrifice Brigade,’ which is one of the brigades of Qaedat al-Jihad [the al-Qaeda's formal name] in Kashmir, under the command of Commander Illyas Kashmiri, may Allah preserve him.”
MAOIST STRIKE TURNS VIOLENT – Around 13 are dead as the Maoists enforce their bandh across six states in response to the killing of senior leader Azad last week. They attacked the home of a Chhattisgarh Congress legislator, killing a relative and employee. Meanwhile, a mediator between the government and Maoists says Azad was in the middle of negotiations with Home Minister P Chidambaram when he died.
AUSTERE POLITICIANS – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh receives the lowest pay of any leader in the world, when measured against the country’s GDP per person, according to a table in The Economist. Of course, part of the problem in India is that politicians need to supplement their meagre income with a few things on the side, which is why the recent controversial bill to increase their pay should be passed.
VIOLENCE IN ASSAM – The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) are accused of blowing up a train in Assam, where they are fighting for a separate state for the Bodo people, killing at least one.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING – The new Tory government has made India its top foreign policy priority, figuring that all those happy years together must surely mean they can go grovelling back for some money now its economy is in tatters. This has barely registered in India, although new PM David Cameron will try to remind them during a visit later this month. A lot depends on whether India allows foreign investment into the retail sector, which it is currently debating, but which it has shied away from repeatedly in the past.
MAOIST BANDH – The Maoists have started their two-day ‘bandh’ (focused on shutting down rail and bus links, particularly to mining projects) across six states in protest against last week’s killing of senior Maoist leader Azad, followed by five days of protest.
KASHMIR UNREST – The past two weeks have seen 15 people killed by police as protests, strikes and business shut-downs worsen in the valley. Now the army has been called in to Srinigar for the 1st time in 20 years as a “deterrent” with all the ominous implications that involves. Two border officers have also been killed in firing across the Pakistan border. As John Elliott argues, the Indians have failed to realise this is no longer primarily a problem of Pakistan-trained armed militants, but of stone-throwing youths, and yet the official response is still heavy-handed and rifle-first. This IDSA piece tries to argue in favour of keeping the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which has been widely criticised for encouraging human rights violations in Kashmir and elsewhere. There are some interesting details in there, but ultimately the AFSPA is a major contributor to the culture of impunity within the army that fuels all this amateur disaffection.
3.3 MILLION NGOs – That’s right, there is one non-governmental organisation for every 400 Indians, and that’s only the properly registered ones in 2008. In reality, every single person has his own NGO (probably).
PAKISTAN-CHINA TIES – CFR has an excellent overview on China’s interests in Pakistan (Zardari’s currently visiting Beijing), which are based on keeping India on its toes and making sure the Pakistanis help control the Uighur militants. This takes the form of military and financial support, and apparently includes a willingness to strike deals with militants that might threaten Chinese workers and interests (classic Chinese realpolitik). Jane’s is reporting that they’ve formed a Joint Investment Company, formalising their expanding trade links, which include the modernisation of the Karachi Shipyard to help build a Chinese-designed frigate, and the Pakistan Aeronautical Company where the Chinese JF-17 combat aircraft is being built. None of this will make India happy, especially in light of China’s planned sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which it turns out was signed last year, despite the Chinese only informing the Nuclear Suppliers Group a month ago.
MAOIST LEADER TALKS FROM PRISON – Soutik Biswas interviews Venkateswar Reddy, aka Telugu Dipak, a Maoist ideologue believed to be behind some major Maoist operations in West Bengal. He was arrested in March. Doesn’t get a huge amount of information out of him, though interesting to hear him worry at the end that violence is getting out of hand, and that negotiations have to be considered. Is this pressure from police custody? The effect of a rehabilitation programme? Or genuine worry about the spiralling momentum of violence?
PAKISTAN MILITANTS BANNED – Pakistan’s Punjab state government has finally accepted there might be a bit of a problem with militants in its midst and banned 23 different organisations. The state government of Shahbaz Sharif has been accused of courting militants in the past, with law minister Rana Sanaullah campaigning alongside the extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan earlier this year. However, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely seen as a front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has only had its finances frozen and some restrictions placed on the movements of controversial leader (and suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks) Hafiz Saeed.
NATIONWIDE STRIKES went ahead today in protest against the deregulation of fuel prices. Will it make any difference? No. It would be ridiculous to keep up the system of subsidies that leaves oil suppliers underpaid by millions of rupees. That’s just as inflationary as the price rise, according to the man behind the deregulation plan. BJP leader Arun Jaitley was among those arrested in Lucknow.
PROFESSOR HAS HAND CHOPPED OFF – Some insane morons dragged a professor out of his car and chopped off his right hand in front of his family yesterday. The professor is on bail for writing an exam paper question that apparently defamed the prophet Mohammed, for which he has apologised. I can’t find the question anywhere so hard to judge whether he was inciting hatred.
SECRET NEPAL DEAL – A member of the Nepali Congress party says there was a secret deal between Maoist leader Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal, three days before the latter resigned as PM on 30 June. They apparently promised to complete the highly controversial integration of former Maoist fighters into the national army (and pay-offs for the rest). The army hasn’t been best pleased at the idea of incorporating former enemies into its ranks, but with the peace process collapsing, there really is no alternative. The missed deadline to write a constitution by 28 May seems to be spurring some vital compromise, but it remains highly precarious.
SPONSORSHIP BLUES FOR CWG – The unending tragedy of the Commonwealth Games build-up. Now, worries about sponsorship and whether the city can off-load some of the $2.5 billion its paid to put them on, with very few sponsors showing interest.
GIRL WAS LeT OPERATIVE – Terrorist plotter David Headley has told US investigators that Ishrat Jahan, a Mumbai girl killed in an encounter with police in 2004, was a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative who was planning to kill Gujarat chief minister Narenda Modi. Good news for the police facing charges over the controversial killing.
COCA COLA IN TROUBLE in Kerala again, with the state government demanding $48 million for environmental damage. I’m no expert on this case, but it does sound like Coke have actually had a bit of a rough time. They were ordered to stop work in 2004 because they were using up all the water, only for water stocks to remain low and a scientific investigation to conclude it was the lack of rainwater that was the real problem. Important to remember the attitudes towards America that were prevalent in 2004, and who symbolises the US more than Coke? Oh, and what a surprise: there appears to be a state election coming up in September! Either way, it all adds to the momentum of anti-industrialisation that has been growing in rural India over the past decade.
INDIA AND CHINA held some more talks as part of their ongoing love-in, which is based on a shared love of money and a shared realisation that they’re going to rule the world soon.
PAKISTAN MELTDOWN – The collapse of Punjab into sectarian violence and horrific acts of terrorism continues unabated, while the rest of the world continues to think that Waziristan is the important problem. The Lahore shine bombing last week that killed 50 has brought threats of violent retaliation by the usually peaceful Barelvis against the Deobandi nutjobs.
Benazir Bhutto’s niece, Fatima, has been seriously pounding the South Asia media circuit in the past few weeks to flog her book, Songs of Blood and Sword, which apparently paints Auntie Benazir in a distinctly unflattering light as a murdering, power-crazed megalomaniac.
As if Fatima was in need of more publicity, this week also saw the release of the UN’s report into Benazir’s murder in December 2007. Everyone is praising the UN report for taking a pretty tough line on the Pakistani establishment, criticising them for failing to adequately protect her and whitewashing the subsequent investigation. The unsubtle message is that the military establishment were behind the execution, possibly using Islamist terrorists to carry out the actual attack, and that the motivation was to remove the threat of a such a popular politician to then-president Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
Benazir was certainly a threat to Musharraf, whose regime was crumbling in the face of rioting lawyers and an upsurge in Islamist terrorism after the siege of the Red Mosque. But it’s less clear that she was a threat to the broader military establishment. She did little to break their hold on power during her stints as premier in the 1990s and all the talk of her being some shining beacon of democracy was, as William Dalrymple puts it more eloquently than I, balls:
Benazir … colluded in wider human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings, and during her tenure government death squads murdered hundreds of her opponents. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world’s worst records of custodial deaths, abductions, killings and torture.
Far from reforming herself in exile, Benazir kept a studied distance from the pioneering lawyers’ movement which led the civil protests against President Musharraf’s unconstitutional attempts to manipulate the Supreme Court … Later she said nothing to stop President Musharraf ordering the US-brokered “rendition” of her rival Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, so removing from the election her most formidable democratic opponent. Many of her supporters regarded her deal with Musharraf as a betrayal of all that her party stood for. Her final act in her will was to hand the inappropriately named Pakistan People’s Party over to her teenage son as if it were her personal family fiefdom.
That doesn’t mean the military were not behind the killing, of course. Musharraf was still the boss and an army man. Perhaps her enemies had actually started to believe the hype about her democratic ideals and got scared.
We will probably never know, so for now just enjoy the rest of Dalrymple’s article which repeats some of a story he wrote in 1994, in which Benazir, then prime minister, comes across as frankly insane and terrifying, and gives a glimpse of the vicious family hatred that eventually led to the murder of Fatima’s father, Murtaza Bhutto, a couple of years later. As for Fatima, daughter of the murdered Murtaza, she gives off a lot of well-poised righteous anger in her interviews, so the book is no doubt a great, if unflinchingly bitter, read.
India spends a great deal of time being tensed for another terrorist attack but there has been some serious tightening of late, with a slew of reports in recent months letting everyone know they will all be blown up in some way or another very soon.
Clearly, the threat is real. India experienced a 2009 free from Pakistan-sourced terrorism (although plenty of Maoist and separatist violence), but Pakistan’s failure to effectively clamp down on militants in its midst means there are plenty of people itching for another high-profile attack. Today, security was heightened at airports amid claims that Lashkar-e-Toiba was planning to hit an airline, and just a few days ago arrested militant Amjad Khwaja, of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islam, told interrogators something similar.
But is it just me catching a waft of the ridiculous about today’s other big announcement: that LeT militants have bought 50 paragliders in Germany for use in a suicide attack. I know we live in an age where terrorists are forced to resort to shoving the explosives in their underpants or even up their arse, but there is something just a little bit silly about picturing these guys learning how to paraglide, especially since the only paragliding instructors I’ve met have been irritating Live-for-the-Rush hippies. On the other hand, if they can get hold of someone like Patrick Swayze in Point Break, then they might be on to something…
[I'm ready to eat my words - assymetric enemies are nothing if not speedy innovators, after all]