People in south Asia watch with dismay, anxiety, and restiveness as ruling powers in their countries recklessly proceed towards fulfilling private agendas that have little to do with issues of livelihood and well being. Peace seems on the road to being destroyed to a point of no return in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is president Bush and the ruling powers in the US who would be laughing all the way as interests of people in south Asia and in the western world are compromised at the altar of the fight against ‘terrorism’.
Fundamental-democratic rights of citizens have been curbed all over the world--through varied names such as the Patriotic Act and Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO)- defining patriotism as subservience to US Imperialism and their stooges in south Asia and the ‘Muslim world’. In fact it appears that having taught the people of Afghanistan ‘a lesson’ for not having identified their interests with those of ‘civilisation’, the US is now keen that people of other countries learn the same, sooner rather than later.
There have been arrests in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for protesting against the US bombardment of Afghanistan. America’s war is inevitably getting incorporated into the private agendas of the governments in south Asia. There is a tinderbox just waiting to catch fire in a way that will engulf the entire region in war and ethnic and religious conflicts and drag people’s fight for justice and citizenship rights by decades, if not more.
Anti Muslim and anti Christian pogroms have taken place in India, anti Christian attacks within a church at prayer time in Pakistan, and Hindus have been viciously attacked and Hindu women raped in Bangladesh, in the wake of the high pitch rhetoric of ‘anti terrorism’ created and promoted by the US government, and translated into local versions by the fascist and fundamentalist forces in the entire south Asian region. The recent series of the Maoist attacks in Nepal, we must remember, began with protests on the compulsory singing of the Indian national anthem in Delhi Public School of Nepal. The coming elections in Sri Lanka have all the indications of bloody and sectarian campaigns and contests. The attack on Parliament in Delhi and, and killings of young Sikh and Hindu girls in Kashmir by unknown assailants has contributed to the already tense atmosphere in the region.
In situations of such tension, with the SAARC conference just a few days away, the ruling powers seem bent on playing the game of Imperialism. There is little chance of cooperation and resistance to WTO and World Bank-IMF dictated policies in the wake of such disunity and bad blood between countries in this region. The war of Imperialism against south Asia will succeed not on count of the defeated Afghan people, bombed and with little say in the formation of their own government. It is more likely to win some battles thanks to the shortsightedness, parochialism and vested interests of those in power in the countries loudly proclaiming their support for the ‘fight against terrorism’. At a juncture when internationalism could be the best safeguard of national unity and popular interests the ruling powers are giving voice to the most rabid and jingoistic notions of nationalism.
Nepal in Emergency
It is widely held that the Maoists in Nepal have adopted violent methods of protest, not justified in terms of the means adopted. But it is a matter to ponder that they share many of their grievances and criticisms of the existing government structure and policies with the other left groups and democratic formations in Nepal. They are also not a fringe group in Nepal, enjoying as they do, mass support in many areas.
The manner in which the violence can be controlled and democratic norms assured in Nepal, therefore, should not be a simple matter of calling out the armed forces and quelling disorder or wiping out the Maoists. Grievances need to be addressed, not least among them the sharp contradiction between people’s aspirations and a monarchical structure that is an anachronism and livelihood issues that seem to have been given a back stage by the ruling powers in Nepal. The horrendous murder of the entire ruling family, the manner of crowning of the new king, the speed with which the new king was integrated into the political set up by the ruling party and its leadership may reflect stability of the political system but it is a stability rooted in status quo and peace was therefore bound to be short-lived, as it has proved to be.
Emergency, declared by the government has meant massive curtailment of democratic rights, people cannot move out after eight in the evenings, tourism is almost at a standstill, the security forces have come down heavily on dissent, even as issues of concern and grievances remain unaddressed. A large portion of the year’s budget has been specially diverted to increase the capacity of the security forces, which ultimately means more cuts in people’s welfare and burdens on the poor.
Noam Chomsky in South Asia
“A very dear and respected person, and friend of the oppressed”, is how Budhadev Bhattacharya, Chief Minister of West Bengal, India, described Noam Chomsky, whose lecture tour and interactions with the people of south Asia through last two months is an event of extreme significance, not least because of the political context in which the numerous public meetings took place. Thousands welcomed him with affection and admiration for his views and courage to voice them. He did with finesse, and authority over facts and interpretation derived from years of study, what no one else could have done better. He exposed the imperialist designs and character of the US war against Afghanistan. He showed how the US government was a bigger terrorist than any other fundamentalist group, he exposed the hollowness of US claims to fighting terrorism, defined the nature of the ‘civilisation’ it represents, and called on the people of South Asia to defend their societies against the WTO determined attacks on people’s livelihoods and democratic fundamental rights. He received the same standing ovations and positive response to his views in India and Pakistan, signifying the unity of the people in these countries in the face of imperialism. This overwhelming response is an indication that people in these countries are prepared to fight in defense of democracy and working people’s rights, and that in a few years from now no one will be able to say that we did not try, or that the people of south Asia defeated the designs of their governments to fight each other and play the game of US Imperialism. Chomsky could not have come at a better time. He has stirred consciences and reminded us of what we must do, at a time when a large section of the intelligentsia in our countries has retreated from its liberal-democratic positions.
An US formed government is no solution
Afghanistan has seen enough of ‘popular’ governments instated by the US government. It seems everybody but the Afghans have had their say this time. Grave questions need to be addressed in Afghanistan today, from issues of survival to issues of democracy, and networks created that cut across lines of ethnicity. As Chomsky said in an interview, the so-called Northern Alliance is not much of an alliance. Its members are warlords who have been in bitter conflict with each other. Their ugly record. is well known.
The bombing has caused a catastrophe, which the western media does not even want to take cognizance of. As it is many millions were barely surviving on international aid. With the international workers withdrawn and food deliveries cut during the bombing the situation has deteriorated manifold. Huge numbers have fled into the countryside, and it is impossible to reach them. It is estimated about 70% of the population of Kandahar has fled, and there is no way of tracing them, many into areas that are heavily mined, and now also cluster bombed, and one will never even hear of what happened to thousands of them. Huge numbers have fled their country into Pakistan. The toll with time will be much higher than presented through “collateral damage”. The joys being expressed about Afghanistan in the western and western influenced media are not just premature but also misplaced.
Admirers of Nazis who would be Generals
It was strange to hear a discussion on television the other day when a retired General of the Army refused to be led into jingoism by the interviewers and repeatedly called for caution on the Pakistan front, while the media has been systematically building up the mood for ‘action’. The BJP and its affiliates in the Sangh Parivar are vociferously whipping up frenzy, the government has recalled the envoy from Pakistan without consulting Opposition parties, there are irresponsible talks of the Indus River Basin Waters Treaty being scrapped, and the trains and buses between the two countries have already been suspended. Troops are being sent to the border and everyday there are statements from the leadership about teaching lessons and fitting replies, in pale imitation of Bush, even as peace activists and left parties are calling for caution, restraint and sanity. The government sees adventurism as another form of electoral strategy, where those calling for peace are being branded as anti nationalists, much in the same way as protests against bombing of Afghanistan and opposition to POTO are being branded.
Anti Muslim pogroms and attacks on rights of secular people and groups in India are being deliberately linked by the BJP government with ‘national security’ through the ‘either with us or against us’ rhetoric, imitative of Bush, and minorities are being pushed to the wall to prove their patriotism. In Gujarat, Bajrang Dal, the fascist storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar, are asked to ‘keep an eye’ on the minorities in their localities. The Education Minister of the country describes the work of secular historians as ‘intellectual terrorism’ and has withdrawn and made unilateral deletions from history school texts and schools have been directed that issues raised in the concerned portions must not even be discussed in classrooms. The RSS linked NCERT Director, says these historians are linked with ‘extraneous forces’ that want to undermine the unity of this country’, and the Prime Minister of the country offers complete encouragement for such intemperate fascist attacks on academicians and intellectual freedom. The same rhetoric is being used to distract attention from intended changes in labour laws and selling off the country’s assets in the name of privatization.
The General who is President
Pakistan is on the brink of a crisis only a shade less dangerous than what Afghanistan faces today, thanks to Bush and his men and the General who cannot decide whether to be a strong army man or a civilian leader. Despite US aid, the economy of Pakistan is in a crisis, and the country is getting beaten from all sides. The US expects Pakistan to continue allowing use of military bases indefinitely and to cooperate in the formation of a stooge government in Afghanistan. The Indian government’s political and threatened military aggression has potential of subsuming all other local issues, and fundamentalists in Pakistan are likely to step up the pressure. The entry of some 3 million refugees can create more than an economic burden in the context of greater role of the US in the region.
With Bush’s men literally sitting within the Pakistani political and military establishment, peace and anti imperialist forces in Pakistan are in for some tough times. The General may now offer little respite from fundamentalism for the simple reason that it may not continue to be the requirement of the US, once it identifies its own ‘civilised’ fundamentalists in the area.
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