Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3

Editorial Perspective

Culprit is the Politics!

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival’ (JLF). Subsquently, even his video-discussions was not allowed. It is on record that the mullahs had threatened that "rivers of blood would flow" if Rushdie were to make an appearance, even via video-link, at the festival. Rushdie, against whom a fatwa (rulings based on the interpretation of Islam by the maulanas based on Sunnah, the Shariah and the Tariqah/ the spiritual path) for assassination for blasphemy against the Prophet was issued and subsequently withdrawn in 1998, visited India several times in the recent past. This was, however, natural for him, being of Indian origin. But Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa this time against his Indian visit and Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani of Deoband was most visible figure in the opposing group. Naturally, Rushdie was peeved and remarked: "…Darul Uloom is the group from which the Taliban learnt their ideology. This is the group which in the notorious Imrana case said that a woman raped by her father-in-law should be divorced by her husband….These are dreadful people, and then if this is the face of Islam and it is going to take root in India and then it is a very bad state of affairs. And I blame them strongly." It needs mention that unholy haste was shown in banning Rushdie’s novel without even having any information about its contents. The ban under the Customs Act was only on its import.

Darul Uloom Deoband regularly issues fatwas, for which it has a separate department known as Darul Ifta, which was set up in 1892. It is pertinent to know that the fatwa issued against Rushdie violated in spirit the following fatwas issued by them.

"Question 2019: If someone does blasphemy against Hazrat Mohammed or uses derogatory language for his character, then what should be his punishment in India? What should be the punishment under Islamic law?

Fatwa 1386/1226=B: Punishing a criminal or a guilty is the duty of a Government not individuals like we and you. In India, though we do not have an Islamic Government we should try our level best to get such a perpetrator punished according to the Indian Constitution. In an Islamic country, the culprit of blasphemy is to be killed.

Question 9400: In a non-Muslim country who can give the punishment of rajm (stoning to death)? Is a private individual allowed to administer this punishment? In a non-Muslim country if a Muslim wants to purify himself of his sin of zinah should he go to a country where the punishment of rajm is administered?

Fatwa 1249/1249=M/1429: In non-Islamic countries, the penalty of rajm (Stoning to death) is not implemented. No individual is allowed to administer the punishment. Such a person should only repent to Allah and seek his forgiveness."

Similar thing happened in Hyderabad and Kolkata also. In Hyderabad, a seminat on Rushdie was not allowed. Taslima Nasreen’s book Nirbasan (Exile) – the seventh volume of an autographical series by her – was to be released at the auditorium of the 36th Kolkata International Book Fair. It needs mention that her controversial book Dwikhandita (Split in two) was the third book of the series. The organizers of the fair, Publishers and Book-sellers Guild, on receiving a call protesting the release of the book, informed the publisher that the venue may not be made available for the book-release. The Bengal police official confirmed the receipt the complaint from the Milli Ittehad Parishad (All India Minority Forum). Incidentally, it is the same organization whose violent protests had forced Tasleema out of West Bengal in 2007. The Forum sent delegations to the police and the organizers warning them of dire consequences. When the publisher organized smaller releasing function of the book at their stall after its cancellation by the Book Fair organizers, the extremists tried their best to disrupt it. Ironically, while there was disruption in the book releasing functions in Kolkata, the same was successfully done in Dhaka, and that too by a Government agency. In this case, Tasleema’s statement amply sums up the paradox, "Dhaka Book Fair in Muslim majority Bangladesh now successfully launched my book, Kolkata Book Fair in Muslim minority India could not". Another paradox in this case, which needs mention, is that whereas the State and its Police miserably failed to provide enough protection to a simple book launch, the people’s response was heartening; they not only helped and protected the function but purchased the entire lot of the first edition within a day.

As three episodes clearly illustrate, the Governments and the State police in Jaipur, Hyderabad and Kolkata shamelessly surrendered before the lumpen elements of the entrenched orthodoxy threatening violence. Mamata Banerjee came to power on the slogan of ‘poribarton', opposed state violence at Nandigram and Singur. The recent episode in Kolkata exposes the hollowness of her claim. And it is not difficult to fathom the helplessness of the Congress Government in Delhi, Jaipur and Hyderabad, when Rahul Gandhi’ and his advisors, including Digvijay Singh, are busy weaving the dangerous "minority victimhood myths" without bothering for their adverse impact, provided it works as a strategy and brings results in their favour in ensuing U.P. Mahabharata. Digvijay Singh has no qualms in injecting "juicy" communal element during his irresponsible utterances, if it brings short term gains. During the entire halla-gulla, neither the voice of leftists nor that of the secular Muslims is heard as yet. For many, who supported the creation of Pakistan, the secular values are skin deep; scratch a little, communalism shows its ugly face. Here it needs mention that BJP has also not come out with clean face in this respect. Their leaders’ falling in line of the leftists in searching and presenting ‘Secular Jinnah’ was not without mischievous intent.

Nomani, after the successful campaign to prevent Rushdie’s arrival to India and his participation in the JLF, described it as a "victory of democracy". Obviously he has inverted concept of democracy. Indian Communists also use the same inverted language; for them the dictatorship and ‘people’s democracy’ mean the same. Under present circumstances, the task of preventing our cherished democratic values from being hijacked by a lunatic fringe getting endorsement from cynical politicians is a difficult task.

Muslim scholars have developed the habit of constantly contesting the claims of those who kill in the name of the faith. They should know that denial and negationism is not going to bring results and purpose of proving ‘clash of civilization’ wrong. The challenge of accepting the facts and finding the answers, even if difficult, shall have to be accepted. And the fact is that blasphemers were killed even on Prophet’s prompting. Assassinations of poetess Asma, daughter of Merwan; Abu Afak, K’ab ibn al-Ashraf and Ibn Suneina are pointers to the same. They met their end for criticizing the Prophet. Claimants of prophethood at the fag end of the life of Prophet Muhammad met the same end. The prince of Khaibar was first subjected to torture for for the purpose of discovering the treasures of his tribe, and then put to death with his cousin, for having concealed the same. Two whole Jewish tribes of Medina –Beni Kainuka and Beni an-Nadir – were banished, while of the third 600 to 8oo men were butchered before his eyes; their women and children were sold in captivity. A timely allegiance, however, brought relief and forbearance as in the case of Abdallah and the Disaffected citizens of Medina. Unprecedented flow of wealth to the believers due to Male Ghanimat (plunder) was also not without causing sufferings and violence. Numerous shuras of Quran advise believers to be harsh towards non-believers and kill them. But, scholars like Dr. Muhammed Tahir-ul-Qadri finds none, not even the slender justification of violence as a response after combing the Quran. Is it not strange?

In India, the Hindus and Muslims live in the atmosphere of peace and harmony with good neighbourly relationship. The Hindu converts to Islam, in majority of cases, retained the culture of their Hindu forefathers. Wahhabism and Tablighi Jamat are working for breaching the bridge. A most disturbing feature again is the outsourcing of terror and growth of home-grown terrorist outfits. Deconstructionist study of the minorities and minority victimhood literatures Euro-American scholars and their collaborator scholars in India, as well as Indian mediamen and politicians, is catalyzing the process of divide between the communities. The trend must be arrested.

Present Afghanistan Scenario

President Obama, within weeks of assuming office, publicly declared his intention to quit Afghanistan. The public declaration, however, emboldened Taliban and Pakistan to seek the US and NATO exit on the favourable terms. The exit plan, announced in nice phrases, such as, ‘reconciliation’ and ‘transit to 2014’, followed by a publicly unveiled troop draw-down, stretching from 2011 to 2014 complicated the matter further; the ISI-Taliban duo was further emboldened. A signal, duly given that the US-EU (ISAF), after 10 years of war against terror in Afghanistan, have reached a conclusion that the war is not winnable, robbed the chance from the US to negotiate from a position of strength. Opening the card before the enemy, clearly shows the lack of proper strategy; the strength of US, however, emanated from its technological superiority. Earlier, ISI continued to support Taliban and al-Qaeda chief secretly, while Pakistan claimed its partnership in war against terror; as a result,the war in Afghanistan protracted. Now, the situation is such that in spite of the stern warning of Hilary Clinton, Pakistan Army refuses to launch operations against the Haqanni outfit in North Waziristan.

The US initiated negotiation with Taliban through Germany and then directly through its envoy Marc Grossman during last few months. Now, after setting of the weakened Taliban’s office at Qatar, the stage is set for their secret negotiation with the US. The decision to drawdown by mid-2014 with ultimate objective to leave a stable, independent and democratic Afghanistan post 2014 was based on the conclusion that the said objective cannot be realised without co-opting Pakistan and Taliban in any final solution. Therefore, there are efforts since 2010 to force Pakistan to open lines with Taliban. Even Karzai government is forced to fall in line. But Pakistan and Taliban, sensing victory after US and NATO leave, want larger roles in Afghanistan, and therefore,are not fully cooperative. Pakistan, accordingly, has not acted against Taliban and those operating in Afghanistan using US’s logistical dependency on Pak. This led to US-Pak conflict and US has tried and opened independent line with Taliban and logistic operations through Russia/Central Asia (now over 60%)

In the given situation, the interests of different regional powers differ. Whereas, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China want full withdrawal from Afghanistan after 2014; the US wants to retain a non-combat role in that country. India and Central Asian countries, however, want continued US force’s presence there, lest Taliban/terrorist actions shall affect them. The US also wants regional powers and India to play greater role in Afghanistan after its withdrawal, which is resented by Pakistan and Taliban.

The US and European Union strategy on Afghanistan, unfolded in recent Istambul (Nov 2011) and Bonn (Dec, 2011) conferences is to (1) provide role of regional powers in Afghanistan; (2) ensure Afghanistan’s independence, neutrality and non-interference of outsiders; (3) continued involvement of International community by pledging financial support to Afghanistan and in building ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) post-2014 and (4) accord Central role to ANSF to ensure Afghanistan’s stability post 2014. It is proposed to enhance the numbers of Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to 1,95,000 and 1,57,000 respectively. However, the strategy of Pakistan and Taliban differs, which is to ensure important roles for themselves in post-2014-Afghanistan, non-interference from others and complete withdrawal of ISAF (US-NATO). Both want US forces and India out to ensure their dominance in Afghanistan. Taliban, working for international recognition, wants to get its five arrested leaders with US released. The US wants Taliban to play a role in Afghanistan only if it accepts Afghan constitution; gives up arms and terror tactics, and accept role of Karzai govt. and other minorities. Its largely dependent on an effective ANSF to counter Taliban/terror. But by all accounts ANA is unlikely to be effective in such short time due to factionalism, poor training and likely intra-Army division with officers from former Northern Army and lower cadre Pashtuns, likely to be pro-Taliban. The negotiations, though difficult, shall continue. But Taliban is unlikely to give up arms. On its part the present Karzai govt. is the weakest link. It has tenuous control over country; is corrupt and faction ridden. Taliban is in organized manner assassinating its supporters to weaken it further. International financial aid is going to decline progressively. Will find difficult to survive and may meet the fate of Babrak Karmal after soviet withdrawal in 1990. It may lead to a civil war between the Pashtun and non-Pashtun factions as in early nineties. Therefore, the Afghan future is riddled with uncertainties; but decision to withdraw post-2014 is unlikely to change even after the US-Presidential election in Nov 2012, as they see no future in Afghanistan. Any way, the US hopes to conclude negotiations in about next two years.

Though Iran, India and CA countries are not comfortable with Taliban’s role in Afghanistan, but will not oppose any settlement with it. India will be with US strategy. China, though inactive, has conflicting approach of peaceful Afghanistan for economic gains, and wants to see US out of region for strategic reasons. US is now actively combating China in East and SE Asia and its presence in Afghanistan opens another flank for China.

Pak-Taliban who have real stake in Afghanistan are in total conflict with U.S. plans and while going along with negotiations, are playing for time, as they feel that future belongs to them. Only irritant is continued US presence, even in non-combat role as it will prolong the conflict.

In brief, conflicting interests of various stake-holders, presages an uncertain and conflict ridden Afghanistan in which India’s role will progressively decline, if the US decides, as it may, to leave without proper settlement, as it did in Vietnam and Iraq. The US interest is only to leave Afghanistan undefeated, with a modicum of stable Afghanistan and balance, if not keep out, the Pakistan, Taliban and Iranian influences. Chinese dilemma is between the ouster of US and possibility of Taliban return, which would have consequences in Xinxiang due to Uigher terror. Though, there are basic strategic differences among the stakeholders in Afghanistan, which presages a period of conflict post 2014, forcing new alignments and developments over a period, in which Pak and Taliban will be key players.

                                                                                                                                                                                         — B.B. Kumar

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati