Garrulity of the Lambs: India and Afghanistan

India to have a say in world matters, first should set her own house in order

The Statesman

Taliban has re-won Afghanistan, teaching the US another lesson, which they are unlikely to learn (brilliantly versified by W H Auden- ‘I know and the public knows / What all school-children learn/ those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return!’). Political analysts, defence experts and Medical volunteers are having the time of their life. Prophets of doom for the Afghans are available two a penny. Numbers of real and possible victims galore! Every Tom, Dick and Harry has suddenly awakened to ‘humanitarian concern/s’, and the UN has warned of a humanitarian disaster.

Surely! this is not the first occasion that the liberals of the world (who never unite!) targeted a single country and condemned the rulers charging them with crimes against humanity. History has seen Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China being so targeted, and last few years it has been the middle-east countries Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and more regularly Afghanistan. The liberal West (waste?) has been busy policing the world without anybody wanting it to do so! Yesterday it was Saddam’s Iraq’ today it is Taliban’s Afghanistan. Saddam was charged without evidence to the date of possessing chemical weapons of mass destruction. Taliban is charged with bringing down doom on Afghans- in particular women and other weaker sections there.

Whatever conspiracies of coercion the Taliban may be hatching for Afghanistan, one wonders whether this liberal cacophony that is so well-orchestrated is nothing short of a counter-conspiracy. It is almost like the paradox of the hunter overtaking the prey to be hunted. While even the Taliban must be busy finding its feet and ‘assuming control’ and setting up the house, the liberal champions of humanity are planning (conspiring?) to re-enter Afghanistan for medical aid and so on. Huge amounts are being pledged! Do these protectors of human dignity believe that the Taliban which stands in defiance of the rest of the world would be so foolish as not to see through these ‘humanitarian’ initiatives? More on this later…

When the garrulous of the world is going gaga would India be far behind?

Garrulity is our national trait and has been alternately the trait of our rulers. Nehru, who talked a lot (but talked well) was followed by Shastri and Indira who were leaders of few words. JP and the Janata Party were condemned to talk only and Rajiv did not know how to talk. VP Singh talked and talked to be followed by Rao who talked little. Vajpayee had talked all his life but was generally restrained as PM in his talk (ab baat karana aasaan nahi rahaa, he conceded!). He was followed by a deadly silence on the northern front for a decade as both Man Mohan and Soniya did not possess (luckily) the gift of the gab! Come NaMo and it was all talk, talk and more talk!

So India had to say something on the events in Afghanistan and the minister of state for External Affairs (no matter who-the last expansion of the NaMo gang at the top propelled the most unlikely because NaMo loyalty-sic no independent mind- and caste/community were the selection criteria) said that as Afghanistan was a neighbouring country. India was ‘watching’ (as if India could do otherwise) the developments there. This was followed by the safe return of a handful of Indian nationals from there-remember how Vajpayee had agreed to release a terrorist to bring back a planeload of Indians from a hijacked flight in Afghanistan? We lost both the plane and prestige in that deal-so the NaMo devotees can boast that our people were brought home at almost no cost!

The moot point is-what is India’s standing vis-à-vis who rules Afghanistan?
Frankly, India is just big and not a big (economic/military) player in the international community like for instance our much-hated neighbour China. The Chinese avowal that she would give all help to the Taliban has sent jitters down the spines of US, NATO members and perhaps even Putin’s Russia as only yesterday the Russians had grabbed the reins of power in Afghanistan. UK that once ‘ruled the waves' is only a marginal handmaid of the US and will just tow/toe the US line. The rest of the world- North and South America, Africa, and East Asia too are likely to be just onlookers. In this scenario, India should (diplomatically) have refrained from comment and focussed only on the safe return of the Indians stranded in Afghanistan. But talk a NaMo slave must.

It has also been stated that at the next QUAD meeting, Afghanistan will be a crucial point for deliberations but there too, I am afraid, India will be reduced to watching a game of tennis while the players shall US and (by absence) China. India is the only QUAD nation having a border with China and has always found trouble bordering there! In other words, India’s inclusion in QUAD is essentially geopolitical and not because she could counter possible China-Taliban collaboration in which China shall wound-if not kill- three birds in one shot: the US, Russia and India.

The centre of gravity (!) of world politics is shifting now certainly to Asia, though not because of Indian strategies. If that is how things stand let India speak through silence and let the world- QUAD-members included-labour over India’s silence.

To react with maturity to this shifting of the political nucleus of the world, we need to understand that the map of the known world has been re-drawn in every century since the Age of Mercantilism (trade relations dictated terms). This was followed by early Capitalism and the Industrial revolution when ownership of natural resources was of prime importance. Colonialism was only the natural outcome as most European nations sort of divided the world among themselves or set up new European colonies in the Americas. This lead to two world wars and mankind learnt at great cost that wars only lead to more wars.

The 20th century brought a fresh paradigm to this remapping as two totalitarian regimes threatened Democracy (or ‘civilisation’ according to Churchill). Hitler was destroyed with the pooling of the military capability of the Allies. Stalin’s USSR emerged as the new Axis power while the other Allies were resting on their laurels/or busy with reconstruction in their own countries. Ideology-Capitalism/Socialism and form of Government Democratic/Totalitarian-drew the two-block world political map. Artificial dividing lines were enforced in Germany, Korea and Vietnam even as a similar division of the Indian sub-continent was still suppurating. Ironically, Yugoslavia was put together as artificially as Germany, Korea, Vietnam were split. Suffice it to say that these man-made boundaries collapsed in Germany and Viet-Nam; the manmade union went to pieces in Yugoslavia. There are intermittent indications that the two Koreas too would become history; Pakistan was further divided into linguistic-cultural lines exposing the vanity of the claim that common religion is enough to club people into a nation!

Towards the end of the last century, two big slogans emerged –Liberalisation and Globalisation (I shall use the more meaningful compound Glibralisation from now on). We were assured that a novel type of internationalism would prevail in the 21st century. From each according to its capacity to produce/manufacture at low cost and (to be sold) to those who did not have those products would be the universal MoU between all members of the WTO (heavily leaning towards US and EU). Subsidies would be a thing of the past and so on. Wars would be redundant as competition would replace them, it was trumpeted. The New Economic Order would harmonise mankind. The State would no more command the economy but act like a catalyst. This would be free trade with a difference as it would consider the whole planet as one economy and would hurdles of poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment and poor quality of life the world over, we were assured ad nauseam. Fine words indeed-though sickeningly glib!

While the world economy was being pushed forward world politics has been going back to the middle ages! As man-made boundaries collapsed the old paradigms of dividing people and defining bonds (sic nationalities) have reappeared. Ethnic, racial, religious, linguistic appeals have not only revived but seem to be working on mass psyches: irrespective of underdevelopment and poor quality of life. We have to engage this schizophrenia with objective analysis. We must ponder if the over-enthusiasm to remap the world after the UN was founded has created unbearable tensions and preciously little happiness!

If that is the case, India needs to watch herself more than Afghanistan! Whether the Taliban would inspire bitter insurgency in Kashmir and provide the terrorists there with weaponry left behind by the US is being discussed by the habitual military experts, and suggestions to ‘watch’ are aplenty. While they are flogging their own hobby horses desperately, India should seriously review whether the removal of Kashmir’s special status and its reorganisation has really lead to better integration of Kashmiriyat with Indian identity. Also, whether the solution to the Ram Mandir imbroglio is alienating a large section of Muslims and if the scrapping of triple Talaq has lead to modernising the Muslim psyche. In short, are all the Islam related developments during NaMo’s second term working more towards Hindu satisfaction?

Actually, India can tell the world a lot. We are the surviving example of integration of all nature-God-man made divisions through ages. We can tutor the rest of the world because by the 2050s India will be the most populous, multi - ethnic-religious-linguistic-environmental part of the planet! But to find listeners, we must first set our own house in order.

Only then we will have more listeners than in China!

- Vinay Hardikar

(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)

Click here to read all the articles from the series Hard(ikar) Talk

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