And then there was Alexander Dubček in the Prague Spring of 1968

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Subroto Roy recalls that long before Gorbachev and Walesa, there was in the Prague Spring a man named Dubček…. this is a photograph published in his “Hope Dies Last”
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Seventy Years Today Since the British Government Politically Empowered MA Jinnah

Seventy Years Today Since the British Government Politically Empowered MA Jinnah

by

Subroto Roy

The bloated armies of Indian and Pakistani historians and pseudo-historians have failed to recognize the significance of the precise start of the Second World War upon the fortunes of the subcontinent.  Yet, twenty years ago, in the book I and WE James created at an American university, Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, one of our authors, Professor Francis Robinson of the University of London, had set out the principal facts most clearly as to what flowed from the September 4 1939 empowerment of MA Jinnah by the British Government.

Germany invaded Poland on September 1 1939 and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3. The next day, Linlithgow, the British Viceroy in India, started to treat MA Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with the Congress’s nationalist movement led by MK Gandhi. Until September 4 1939, the British “had had little time for Jinnah and his League. The Government’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September, however, transformed the situation. A large part of the army was Muslim, much of the war effort was likely to rest on the two Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. The following day, the Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on an equal footing with Gandhi” (Robinson, in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy 1989, 1992).

Jinnah himself was amazed by the new British attitude towards him: “suddenly there was a change in the attitude towards me. I was treated on the same basis as Mr Gandhi. I was wonderstruck why all of a sudden I was promoted and given a place side by side with Mr Gandhi.”

Jinnah’s political weakness had been made obvious by the electoral defeats the Muslim League had suffered in the 1937 elections in the very provinces which more or less came to constitute West Pakistan and today constitute modern Pakistan. Britain, at war with Germany and soon Japan, was faced with the intransigence of the Congress leadership.  It was unsurprising this would contribute to the British tilt empowering Congress’s declared adversary, Jinnah and the Muslim League, and hence make credible the possibility of the Pakistan that they had demanded:

“As the Congress began to demand immediate independence, the Viceroy took to reassuring Jinnah that Muslim interests would be safeguarded in any constitutional change. Within a few months, he was urging the League to declare a constructive policy for the future, which was of course presented in the Lahore Resolution. In their August 1940 offer, the British confirmed for the benefit of Muslims that power would not be transferred against the will of any significant element in Indian life. And much the same confirmation was given in the Cripps offer nearly two years later…. Throughout the years 1940 to 1945, the British made no attempt to tease out the contradictions between the League’s two-nation theory, which asserted that Hindus and Muslims came from two different civilisations and therefore were two different nations, and the Lahore Resolution, which demanded that ‘Independent States’ should be constituted from the Muslim majority provinces of the NE and NW, thereby suggesting that Indian Muslims formed not just one nation but two. When in 1944 the governors of Punjab and Bengal urged such a move on the Viceroy, Wavell ignored them, pressing ahead instead with his own plan for an all-India conference at Simla. The result was to confirm, as never before in the eyes of leading Muslims in the majority provinces, the standing of Jinnah and the League. Thus, because the British found it convenient to take the League seriously, everyone had to as well—Congressmen, Unionists, Bengalis, and so on….”(Robinson in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy,  pp. 43-44).

Even British socialists who were sympathetic to Indian aspirations, would grow cold when the Congress seemed to abjectly fail to appreciate Britain’s predicament during war with Germany and Japan (Gandhi, for example, dismissing the 1942 Cripps offer as a “post-dated cheque on a failing bank”).

By the 1946 elections, Muslim mass opinion had changed drastically to seem to be strongly in favour of the creation of a Pakistan. The intervening years were the ones when urban mobs all over India could be found shouting the League’s slogans: “Larke lenge Pakistan; Marke lenge Pakistan, Khun se lenge Pakistan; Dena hoga Pakistan; Leke rahenge Pakistan” (We will spill blood to take Pakistan, you will have to yield a Pakistan.)

Events remote from India’s history and geography, namely, the rise of Hitler and the Second World War, had contributed between 1937 and 1947 to the change of fortunes of the Muslim League and hence of all the people of the subcontinent.

The British had long discovered that the mutual antipathy between Muslims and Hindus could be utilised in fashioning their rule; specifically that the organisation and mobilisation of Muslim communal opinion in the subcontinent was a useful counterweight to any pan-Indian nationalism which might emerge to compete with British authority. As early as 1874, well before Allan Octavian Hume, ICS, had conceived the Indian National Congress, John Strachey, ICS, was to observe “The existence side by side of these (Hindu and Muslim) hostile creeds is one of the strong points in our political position in India. The better classes of Mohammedans are a source of strength to us and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but an energetic minority of the population whose political interests are identical with ours.” By 1906, when a deputation of Muslims headed by the Aga Khan first approached the British pleading for communal representation, Minto the Viceroy replied: “I am as firmly convinced as I believe you to be that any electoral representation in India would be doomed to mischievous failure which aimed at granting a personal enfranchisement, regardless of the beliefs and traditions of the communities composing the population of this Continent.” Minto’s wife wrote in her diary that the effect was “nothing less than the pulling back of sixty two millions of (Muslims) from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition.” (The true significance of MAK Azad may have been that he, precisely at the same time, did indeed feel within himself the nationalist’s desire for freedom strongly enough to want to join the ranks of that seditious opposition.)

If a pattern emerges as to the nature of the behaviour of the British political state with respect to the peoples of this or similar regions, it is precisely the economic one of rewarding those loyal to them who had protected or advanced their interests, and penalising those perceived to be acting against their will. It is wishful to think  of members of the British political state as benevolent paternalists, who met with matching deeds their often philanthropic words about promoting the general welfare of their colonial wards or subordinate allies. The slogan “If you are not with us you are against us” that has come to be used by many from the Shining Path Maoists of Peru to President George W. Bush, had been widely applied already by the British in India, especially in the form “If you dare not to be with us, we will be certainly with your adversaries”. It came to be used with greatest impact on the subcontinent’s fortunes in 1939 when Britain found itself reluctantly at war with Hitler’s Germany.

British loyalties lay with those who had been loyal to them.

Hence in the “Indian India” of the puppet princes, Hari Singh and other “Native Princes” who had sent troops to fight as part of the British armies would be treated with a pusillanimity and grandeur so as to flatter their vanities, Sheikh Abdullah’s rebellion representing the Muslim masses of the Kashmir Valley would be ignored. And in British India, Jinnah the conservative Anglophile and his elitist Muslim League would be backed, while the radicalised masses of the Gandhi-Bose-Nehru Congress would have to be suppressed as a nuisance.

(Similarly, much later, Pakistan’s bemedalled army generals would be backed by the United States against Mujibur Rehman’s impoverished student-rebels, and India’s support frowned upon regardless of how just the Bangladeshi cause.)

Altruism is a limited quality in all human affairs, never more scarce than in relations between nations. In “Pakistan’s Allies”, I showed how the strategic interests of Britain, and later Britain’s American ally, came to evolve in the Northwest of the subcontinent ever since the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar as long as a Russian and later a Soviet empire had existed. A similar evolution of British domestic interests in India is distinctly observable in British support for the Pakistan Movement itself, leading on August 14 1947 to the creation of the new Dominion of Pakistan.

Sheikh Abdullah’s democratic urges or  Nehru’s Indian nationalism or the general welfare of the subcontinent’s people had no appeal as such to the small and brittle administrative machinery in charge of Britain’s Indian Empire — even though individual Britons had come to love, understand and explain India for the permanent benefit of her people. This may help to explain how Britain’s own long democratic traditions at home could often be found so wonderful by Indians yet the actions of the British state abroad so incongruent with them.

 

What is Christine Fair referring to? Would the MEA kindly seek to address what she has claimed asap?

Almost three years ago when the Baloch leader Nawab Bugti was killed by bombardment during the Musharraf-regime, I was moved to research and write a short analysis of Balochistan for the first time. I said inter alia

“because there are two million Balochis in Iranian Balochistan, Pakistan’s Balochi nationalists have had a declared enemy to their west in the Iranian Government ~ the Pahlevi regime even provided Italian-made American Huey helicopter gunships with Iranian pilots to help Bhutto crush the Baloch rebellions of the early 1970s. In fact, Balochi rebels have had no military allies except the pre-communist Government of Afghanistan under Daud, who ‘ordered the establishment of a training camp at Qandahar for Baloch liberation fighters. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Baloch youths were trained and armed there’ (R Anwar, The Tragedy of Afghanistan 1988, p. 78). The Governments of India or the United States lack motivation or capability to help, and Balochistan may be doomed to becoming a large human rights/genocidal disaster of the next decade. An independent Balochistan may be unviable, being overwhelmed by its riches while having too small, uneducated and backward a population of its own, and powerful greedy neighbours on either side… Today, the Pashtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan (as well as perhaps Sindhis of Baloch origin) may be the only interlocutors who can prevent a genocide and mediate a peace between Balochi nationalists and Musharraf’s ruthless Punjabi military-businessmen determined to colonize Balochistan completely with Chinese help, effectively subsidising their misgovernance elsewhere with Balochistan’s riches…”

Raja Anwar had been a close friend and associate of ZA Bhutto, the founder of Pakistan’s ruling party,  and his book on Afghanistan published 20 years ago is required reading.

The wonders of the Internet sent me back to this subject a few days ago when a Pakistani website claimed that the American analyst Dr Christine Fair of RAND said she had visited an Indian consulate in Zahedan, Iran, and alleged to her interlocutors that the consulate was “not issuing visas as the main activity” .

Dr Fair’s reported words seemed to me to be surprising, so I wrote to her seeking a confirmation that she had been quoted correctly, when the Pakistani website very kindly sent me the link to her words at a recent gathering of American and British observers discussing Pakistan.  This is what Dr Fair said at that gathering on this topic (emphasis added):

“I think it would be a mistake to completely disregard Pakistan’s regional perceptions due to doubts about Indian competence in executing covert operations. That misses the point entirely. And I think it is unfair to dismiss the notion that Pakistan’s apprehensions about Afghanistan stem in part from its security competition with India. Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity! Moreover, India has run operations from its mission in Mazar (through which it supported the Northern Alliance) and is likely doing so from the other consulates it has reopened in Jalalabad and Qandahar along the border. Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan. Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar–across from Bajaur. Kabul’s motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious as India’s interest in engaging in them. Even if by some act of miraculous diplomacy the territorial issues were to be resolved, Pakistan would remain an insecure state. Given the realities of the subcontinent (e.g., India’s rise and its more effective foreign relations with all of Pakistan’s near and far neighbors), these fears are bound to grow, not lessen. This suggests that without some means of compelling Pakistan to abandon its reliance upon militancy, it will become ever more interested in using it — and the militants will likely continue to proliferate beyond Pakistan’s control.”

Now I have nothing to do with the Government of India and have no idea about the evidence relating to the precise facts being alleged here. But I do have some circumstantial evidence as well as  a personal reason to be curious, as my father was an Indian diplomat in Tehran during 1954-1957 and I was in fact born there.

I recalled him having told me he had travelled in that region and today he confirmed that he had in fact, from the Tehran Embassy as part of his official duties as Commercial Secretary and Consul, visited what was then an Indian Vice-Consulate at Zahedan, peopled by a single Indian Vice-Consul with whom he had spent two days.

That was more than 50 years ago — so the “Indian mission” that Dr Fair said she visited in Zahedan is far from being anything new whatsoever. In fact, I would predict it was probably something that existed during British India too and that it was precisely an outpost of British India issuing visas for anyone headed towards Quetta in what was then British Baluchistan.

Could the Consulate be upto anything else?  Hmmm, let’s see, how about assisting in the complex overall discussions, now apparently stalled or aborted, between Iran, Pakistan and India over the gas pipeline perhaps?

In other words, there might be any number of perfectly legitimate reasons for India to be represented in Zahedan as it has been for more than half a century — the allegation contained in the American discussion of India fomenting trouble for Pakistan in Balochistan may be entirely baseless.

Did India once support the Northern Alliance? Of course, as did Iran too, but that was all pre 9/11 during the extended Afghan civil war before the toppling of the Mullah Umar Government by the Northern Alliance allied with the United States! That is wholly a separate thing from any claim that India from Iranian soil has caused trouble in Balochistan.

Such an aspersion coming from such a source would be easily and delightedly picked up by those in Pakistan looking for exogenous explanations of their problems.   For example, if you watch the video of the ghastly murder of the Polish engineer Piotr Stanczak by the Pakistani Taliban, you will find a demented Pakistani commentator in the background disclaiming any Pakistani responsibility for it saying instead it was all India’s fault and India has been financing the Pakistani Taliban with “billions”!   (Postcript June 8 2009: Jemima Khan reported a few days ago: “Pakistan pulsates with conspiracy theories. One, which has made it into the local newspapers, is that the Taliban when caught and stripped were revealed to have been “intact, not Muslims”, a euphemism for uncircumcised. (Pakistanis are big on euphemisms.) Their beards were stuck on with glue. “Foreign elements” (India) are suspected.”)

Such is the extent of the psychosis.  “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on…?”

The Government of India obviously needs to address Dr Fair’s claim and seek to squarely refute what she has said in these remarks.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

The “three-state solution” for the Middle East (and why has Tony Blair not resigned when Israel attacked Gaza?) 2009

A few thousand years ago, Moses (whom Freud identified as likely to have been a monotheistic Egyptian nobleman) led the Hebrews out of Egypt. A year ago, Hamas blew up the much-hated wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt with explosives, after secretly over months cutting heavy metal using oxyacetylene torches. Some three hundred and fifty thousand Gazans poured into Egypt’s Rafah town and market to buy food, medicine, cigarettes, petrol, cows, goats, sheep, camel, televisions, mobile phones etc. Israel’s wicked blockade of Gaza was broken. Hosni Mubarak apparently instructed Egyptian border guards not to resist the Palestinian crowds from entering Egypt, and stated that as long as they returned without weapons they were free to trade as they wished. Egypt could hardly have done anything else – Cairo had seen pro-Palestinian demonstrations and Mubarak’s police had arrested some 500 members of the  Muslim Brotherhood. The official Israeli response was “the free passage of Palestinians into Egypt and back, without any supervision, significantly increases the threat coming from the Strip”. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said “it is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates properly, according to the signed agreements. We expect the Egyptians to solve the problem. Obviously we are worried about the situation. It could potentially allow anybody to enter.” But Egypt can hardly solve this problem other than by offering to extend Egyptian sovereignty to the whole of the Gaza Strip. Something similar would have to be done with the West Bank becoming absorbed officially into Jordan. The Palestinian people would then not have their own state after all but have been divided between the formal territories of Egypt, Jordan and of course Israel itself (is not Israel technically a secular country without a state religion?). Gaza and the West Bank could be autonomous regions within Egyptian and Jordanian sovereignty respectively. The Palestinians at least would be able to buy flour and have normal lives and not have been made to live in the open-air prison that they do now. The people of Gaza would have been spared the Israeli atrocity that has been going on in the last several weeks.

 

 

There are and have been uncountable quasi-nationalities who have not had their own nation-states. Kurds are divided between Turkey, Iraq and Iran;  Baloch are divided between Iran and Pakistan; Pashtuns are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan;  Kashmiris  (and for that matter Punjabis and Sindhis) are divided between Pakistan and India; Bengalis are divided between India and Bangladesh;  Tamils are divided between India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore; Tibetans are divided between India and China etc etc, and that is only in half of Asia. There are multitudinous cases all over Europe (and Britain), Africa and also the Americas and elsewhere. The Palestinians would have become one such. And like Poland being divided between Germany and Russia, or between Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Russia even earlier (on this see the inimitable Joseph Conrad Notes on Life and Letters), a people who have been divided without a separate identity can sometimes find themselves independent again as history progresses.

 

 

Islamic Iran has wished a “one-state” solution with the Palestinians and Israelis living together harmoniously, something that seems utopian at best, devious at worst — though recall too Martin Buber’s letter to Tagore.   British foreign policy invented the “two-state” solution ever since the Balfour declaration. It has proved infeasible. Tony Blair became the so-called “Quartet envoy” or whatever immediately after being UK prime minister and was supposed to herald in the two-state solution. He palpably failed and should have resigned when Israel attacked Gaza last month but that may have been too much to expect. Israel today seems to want to impose the “zero-state” solution by extinguishing Gaza (though at one time, pre-PLO and pre-Arafat perhaps, Israel may have proposed itself the annexation of Gaza and the West Bank by Egypt and Jordan respectively).

 

 

All things considered, the “three-state” solution may be the only practical and civilized alternative in the circumstances. Palestine would indeed be remembered, as a place and a culture and a people, and at least the Palestinians would be able to live and thrive and not be attacked.

 

 

Subroto Roy

China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia, Manchuria

Author’s Note: My articles on related subjects recently published in The Statesman include “Understanding China”, “China’s India Aggression”, “China’s Commonwealth”,  “Nixon & Mao vs India”, “Lessons from the 1962 War”, “China’s force & diplomacy” etc

 

 

China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia And Manchuria

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article March 25 2008

Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s current Communist Party boss, reportedly said last year, “The Communist Party is like the parent (father and mother) of the Tibetans. The Party is the real boddhisatva of the Tibetans.” Before communism, China’s people followed three non-theistic religious cultures, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, choosing whichever aspects of each they wished to see in their daily lives. Animosity towards the theism of Muslims and Christians predates the 1911 revolution. Count Witte, Russia’s top diplomatist in Czarist times, reported the wild contempt towards Islam and wholly unprovoked insult of the Emir of Bokhara by Li Hung Chang, Imperial China’s eminent Ambassador to Moscow, normally the epitome of civility and wisdom. In 1900 the slogan of the Boxer Revolts was “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” and catholic churches and European settlers and priests were specifically targeted. The Communists have not discriminated in repression of religious belief and practice ~ monasteries, mosques, churches have all experienced desecration; monks, ulema, clergymen all expected to subserve the Party and the State.

 

 

Chinese nationalism

For Chinese officials to speak of “life and death” struggle against the Dalai Lama sitting in Dharamsala is astounding; if they are serious, it signals a deep long-term insecurity felt in Beijing. How can enormous, wealthy, strong China feel any existential threat at all from unarmed poor Tibetans riding on ponies? Is an Israeli tank-commander intimidated by stone-throwing Palestinian boys? How is it China (even a China where the Party assumes it always knows best), is psychologically defensive and unsure of itself at every turn?

 

The Chinese in their long history have not been a violent martial people ~ disorganized and apolitical traders and agriculturists and highly civilised artisans and scholars more than fierce warriors fighting from horseback. Like Hindus, they were far more numerous than their more aggressive warlike invading rulers. Before the 20th Century, China was dominated by Manchu Tartars and Mongol Tartars from the Northeast and Northwest ~ the Manchus forcing humiliation upon Chinese men by compelling shaved heads with pigtails. Similar Tartar hordes ruled Russia for centuries and Stalin himself, according to his biographer, might have felt Russia buffered Europe from the Tartars.

 

 

Chinese nationalism arose only in the 20th Century, first under the Christian influence of Sun Yatsen and his brother-in-law Chiang Kaishek, later under the atheism of Mao Zedong and his admiring friends, most recently Deng Xiaoping and successors. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the slogan of the present Communist Party but a more realistic slogan of what Mao and friends came to represent in their last decades may be “Chinese nationalism with socialist characteristics”. Taiwan and to lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong represent “Chinese nationalism with capitalist characteristics”. Western observers, keen always to know the safety of their Chinese investments, have focused on China’s economics, whether the regime is capitalist or socialist and to what extent ~ Indians and other Asians may be keener to identify, and indeed help the Chinese themselves to identify better, the evolving nature of Chinese nationalism and the healthy or unhealthy courses this may now take.

 

 

Just as Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted Russification in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine etc., Imperial and Maoist China attempted “Sinification” in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang, East Turkestan). Russification succeeded partially but backfired in general. Similarly, Sinification succeeded naturally in Manchuria and without much difficulty in Inner Mongolia. But it has backfired and backfired very badly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and may be expected to do so always.

 

 

In India, our soft state and indolent corrupt apparatus of political parties constitute nothing like the organized aggressive war-machine that China has tried to make of its state apparatus, and we have much more freedom of all sorts. India does not prohibit or control peasant farmers or agricultural labourers from migrating to or visiting large metropolitan cities; villagers are as free as anyone else to clog up all city life in India with the occasional political rally ~ in fact India probably may not even know how to ban, suppress or repress most of the things Communist China does.

Hindu traditions were such that as long as you did not preach sedition against the king, you could believe anything ~ including saying, like the Carvaka, that hedonism and materialism were good, spiritualism was bunkum and the priestly class were a bunch of crooks and idiots. Muslim and British rulers in India were not too different ~ yes the Muslims did convert millions by offering the old choice of death or conversion to vanquished people, and there were evil rulers among them but also great and tolerant ones like Zainulabidin of Kashmir and Akbar who followed his example.

India’s basic political ethos has remained that unless you preach sedition, you can basically say or believe anything (no matter how irrational) and also pretty much do whatever you please without being bothered too much by government officials. Pakistan’s attempts to impose Urdu on Bengali-speakers led to civil war and secession; North India’s attempts to impose Hindi on the South led to some language riots and then the three-language formula ~ Hindi spreading across India through Bollywood movies instead.

China proudly says it is not as if there are no declared non-Communists living freely in Beijing, Shanghai etc, pointing out distinguished individual academics and other professionals including government ministers who are liberals, social democrats or even Kuomintang Nationalists. There are tiny state-approved non-Communist political parties in China, some of whose members even may be in positions of influence. It is just that such (token) parties must accept the monopoly and dictatorship of the Communists and are not entitled to take state power. The only religion you are freely allowed to indulge in is the ideology of the State, as that comes to be defined or mis-defined at any time by the Communist Party’s rather sclerotic leadership processes.

Chinese passports

During China’s Civil War, the Communists apparently had promised Tibet and Xinjiang a federation of republics ~ Mao later reneged on this and introduced his notion of “autonomous” regions, provinces and districts. The current crisis in Tibet reveals that the notion of autonomy has been a complete farce. Instead of condemning the Dalai Lama and repressing his followers, a modern self-confident China can so easily resolve matters by allowing a Dalai Lama political party to function freely and responsibly, first perhaps just for Lhasa’s municipal elections and gradually in all of Tibet. Such a party and the Tibet Communist Party would be adequate for a two-party system to arise. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles also have a natural right to be issued Chinese passports enabling them to return to Tibet~ and their right to return is surely as strong as that of any Han or Hui who have been induced to migrate to Tibet from Mainland China. Such could be the very simple model of genuine autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang whose native people clearly do not wish to be assimilated in the same way as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. India’s federal examples, including the three-language formula, may be helpful. Once Mainland China successfully allows genuine autonomy and free societies to arise in Tibet and Xinjiang, the road to reconciliation with Taiwan would also have been opened.