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Indian Press On Love Jihad, Mumbai Attack And AIMIM: New Age Islam's Selection, 26 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

26  November 2020

•  Love Jihad: Loving For Religion

By S Gurumurthy

• What AIMIM Needs To Know To Repeat Its Bihar Success In West Bengal

By Adil Hossain

• TV Channels Spent The Week Teaching Viewers How To Wear A Mask And What ‘Love-Jihad’ Is

By Shailaja Bajpai

• Uncertainties In Afghanistan

By G Parthasarathy


Love Jihad: Loving For Religion

By S Gurumurthy

26th November 2020


Amit Bandre


Robert Epstein, a Harvard psychologist who has researched marriages, contrasts the love marriages of Americans for whom “romantic love is a precondition for marriage” with the arranged marriages of Indians for whom “marriage comes first, love comes next”. The traditional arranged marriage and modern love marriage contrast is common in contemporary India. But a new contrast of love marriage vs Love Jihad, which started a decade ago in Kerala, is now pan-Indian and even going global.

Initially dismissed as a Hindutva bogey, it has become a trans-Hindu, trans-party issue. Some dispute the very existence of Love Jihad. But Love Jihad, if it exists, mixes the most powerful individual human urge, love, at one end, and the equally powerful human collective emotion, religion, at the other. The consequences of the dangerous mix, which tears apart families and polarises communities, can be deadly and explosive. Whether high-risk Love Jihad exists, and if it does, how different it is from normal love marriage of Muslim men with non-Muslim women, are critical for secular India.

Love marriage vs Love Jihad

Love marriage is rooted in a man and woman loving each other. Love Jihad, say its detractors, is rooted in Muslim men loving non-Muslim women more for their religion. Love Jihad is not love marriage, they bemoan, as loyalty to religion is the dominant idea, if not the central one, of Love Jihad. A universal love marriage can be between any man and woman, within the same faith or outside faiths. But Islamic Love Jihad is only between Muslim men and non-Muslim women.

The result: It has become an issue between Muslims and others, including Christians and Buddhists. Some say Love Jihad is Islamophobic. But the religionists affected by it insist it is not. Directed by the Supreme Court, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probed 94 cases of love marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women and suspected 23 of being instances of Love Jihad.

It is no more easy to dismiss the issue of Love Jihad. But what is Love Jihad? Love is easily understood. Jihad associated with love is not, given its link with Islamic war. The truth is that Jihad includes war but it is not limited to it. Jihad means any effort to promote Islam. Can love (marriage) be integral to promoting Islam? Neutral and Islamic sources say ‘yes, it can be and is’.

Loving for religion

Studies, including Islamic ones, show how love marriage has played, and continues to play, a significant part in expanding Islam. In a paper titled “Demographic Islamization: Non-Muslims in Muslim Countries”, Philippe Fargues explains how Islamic nations have been Islamising through love and marriage. Fargues concludes: “Love was now playing the same role in the continuing process of Islamization that coercion played in the remote past.” (In Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies [SAIS] Review, Johns Hopkins University).

In his seminal paper titled “How Islam Spread Throughout the World”, Hassam Munir counters the view that Islam spread only through the sword. Munir’s paper appears on the site of Yaqeen Institute, whose philosophy and agenda are designed to counter Islamophobia and its negative impact on the community. Munir says that domestically and internationally, inter-religious marriage was one of the four methods by which Islam spread. Munir writes: “Intermarriage between Muslims and non-Muslims has been historically important for the spread of Islam in many contexts. This is an area of research that only recently has begun to receive attention, as most converts to Islam via this process were women.”

Munir lists the countries to which Islam spread through love. Conversion through intermarriage was important to establishing the early Muslim community in Spain; the early modern Ottoman Empire also offers many examples of intermarriage involving conversion; in British-ruled India, several Dalit women converted to Islam as part of intermarriage with Muslims, writes Munir. He adds that “intermarriage has continued to play an important role in conversion to Islam in more recent times” and gives examples.

Philippe Fargues’ view that, in contemporary times, love has substituted coercion in spreading Islam is affirmed by Munir. In tune with Fargues, Munir gives historical testimonies to show how marriage was the foundation of conversion of not just individuals but countries to Islam. Aligning with both, Christian C Sahner, in his book titled Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious violence and the making of the Muslim World (Princeton University Press), says, “Islam spread through the Christian world via the bedroom.” The love of Muslim men for non-Muslim women seems loaded with religious drive. Undeniably, intermarriage of Muslim men with non-Muslim women has been integral to the religious agenda—a.k.a. Jihad—to spread Islam.

One-Way traffic

To make it worse, marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims seems one-way traffic, as Islam bans Muslim women marrying non-Muslims and confines them within the religion. Evidence suggests the ban is followed in practice. A study by the Pew Research Center, US, shows that while a high degree of Muslims accept their sons marrying non-Muslims, the reverse—their daughters marrying non-Muslims—is least preferred or not preferred at all.

The situation in India seems no different. In 2012, the Congress chief minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, said that during 2009-12, 2,667 young women of other faiths were converted to Islam, against which the number of young Muslim women converted to other faiths was just 81 (India Today, 4.9.2012). The number of non-Muslim women married into Islam is 33 times more than Muslim women married outside Islam.

Kerala’s ‘Love Jihad’ goes global

Given the background of Islamic history, the term “Love Jihad” coined in Kerala in 2009 does not appear inappropriate to the cases of loving and marrying for religion that came out in the state. The idiom gained recognition when the Kerala High Court asked the police to investigate the intermarriages of Muslims with non-Muslim women. Initial attempts to dismiss Love Jihad as just a campaign of Hindutva groups received a setback when the Christian Association for Social Action alleged Love Jihad against Christian women.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (13.10.2009) headlined the report on loving for religion in Kerala as “India: Church, state concerned about ‘Love Jihad’”. The Karnataka government too began viewing Love Jihad as serious. In 2010, the Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, belonging to the CPM, said the Popular Front of India had plans to Islamise Kerala in 20 years using “money and marriages” (Times of India, 26.7.2020), again mainstreaming the debate. Oommen Chandy’s data (2012) on intermarriage of Muslims with other communities also rekindled the Love Jihad debate in Kerala.

Christians, Congress and the CPM have varyingly emphasised the issue. In 2017, the Kerala High Court directed the DGP Kerala to investigate the cases of Love Jihad. Later, the NIA reported on the existence of Love Jihad cases. In 2019, the Kerala Minority Commission Vice-Chairman wrote to the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the organised conversion of Christian women not just into Islam, but into terrorism, adding “love jihad is on”.

In 2020, the Syro-Malabar Church expressed concern over rising Love Jihad cases. The idiom coined in Kerala has since gone global. Buddhists in Burma and Thailand say that Love Jihad is a tool for Islamisation and mixed marriages, which are means of conversion, are a danger to the very survival of Buddhism. (Buddhist Islamophobia: Actors, Tropes, Contexts)

Outdated idea

A solution for this volcanic issue calls for a paradigm shift in thinking. The world is changing course to the detriment of the founding ideas of the 20th century. The perceived death of organised religions is now an outdated wish. The new reality is that religion is emerging as a powerful actor. The contemporary liberals may recall what Max Weber, their icon, had said in 1918. He had theorised that science, which would erode away religion and superstition and demystify the world enchanted by both, would not be able to answer all questions of values and morality. He foresaw the inadequacy in science and religion leading to a fundamental impasse in the modern world.

Even though Weber had thought that any return to old-style religion was an inferior solution, a full hundred years after him, what he feared seems to be coming true. The world is stunningly religious. The religious population is projected to grow by 2.3 billion in 2050, and the unaffiliated by just 0.1 billion! While 1 in 5 were irreligious in the 1970s, it will be around 1 in 7 in 2050—showing a decline in the percentage of irreligious people.

Citing this, the World Economic Forum says: “Reports of the death of organised religion have been exaggerated. According to recent research, the growth of religious populations worldwide is projected to be 23 times larger than the growth of the irreligious between 2010 and 2050.” Samuel Huntington’s thesis of clash of civilisations and Harvard University Pluralism Project 1995, to cite two important developments, are founded on the rebounding of religion.

In a world where religiosity is rising and Weberianism is diminishing, the contemporary liberal ideas seem outdated and incapable of handling dangerous issues like loving for religion. A different idea more appropriate than contemporary liberalism, a product of rising irreligiosity in the past, is to be found. The emerging situation calls for an honest, open and bold debate. Will the distorted Indian secularism allow it is the moot question.


S Gurumurthy is Editor, Thuglak, and commentator on economic and political affairs


What AIMIM Needs to Know to Repeat Its Bihar Success in West Bengal

By Adil Hossain

26 November 2020


AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi during an election rally in Hyderabad in the wake of upcoming Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections on Tuesday, November 24. Photo: Facebook/ Asaduddin Owaisi - The Imperator.


Almost a year ago Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) won the first seat in the so-called Hindi belt by winning the Kishanganj by-election in Bihar. I remember that the arrival of Owaisi in the Seemanchal region of Bihar had generated huge interest among the locals of Chakulia, Kishanganj’s nearest assembly constituency that falls in West Bengal.

Kishanganj is the nearest city for this part of Bengal and thus very important for the local political economy. In tea stalls and sweet shops, people enthusiastically discussed if AIMIM leaders would cross the state border to try their luck in Uttar Dinajpur, a Bengal district with 48% Muslim population.

Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Owaisi found huge popularity among a section of Muslims who widely shared his fierce Urdu speeches, given in the parliament and elsewhere, attacking Hindutva of the BJP and soft-Hindutva of the Congress. During the by-election campaign, his passionate speech against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Kishanganj resonated with many in the region which shares an international border with Bangladesh.

Last year I attended an anti-CAA rally at Chakulia on November 16, 2019, jointly organised by local Left Front MLA Ali Imran Ramz (Victor) and Kolkata-based economist Prasenjit Bose’s Joint Forum Against NRC. While former JNU Students Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar was speaking on the dais, a local Muslim youth sitting next to me commented, “I heard Owaisi sahab at Kishanganj. Kanhaiya is great but no one can speak on the problems of Muslim quam like him.”

Kishanganj, with its sizeable Muslim population, had seen the appearance of outspoken Muslim leaders from outside even earlier. Former Indian diplomat Syed Sahabuddin and president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (a motley group of Muslim organisations) contested and won this seat in 1985 Lok Sabha elections on a Janata Dal ticket. He lost his place to former Union minister M.J. Akbar in the 1989 elections, only to snatch it back in 1991, which he celebrated with a helicopter ride to Kishanganj from Patna.

The issue of language

After AIMIM’s remarkable success in Kishanganj district in the recently-held Bihar election, where they won four of the six assembly seats, they have earned not only national fame but also certain confidence that has led Owaisi to declare that his party would fight next year Bengal assembly polls.

He particularly mentioned four districts of West Bengal with high Muslim population as his target: Malda, Murshidabad, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur. Among all of them, Uttar Dinajpur is not only closest to Kishanganj and Araria, where AIMIM’s gains are concentrated but also it shares a peculiar history and demography with Seemanchal region.

Asaduddin Owaisi, Bihar

AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi at a rally in Bihar’s Kishanganj. Photo: Asaduddinowaisi/Facebook

The issue of language in Uttar Dinajpur is vital to AIMIM’s prospects. Muslims are mainly divided between Surjapuri and Shershahbadia community just like in Kishanganj. Though Surjapuri people speak in Surjapuri dialect (also known as deshi bhasha), many among them see Urdu as their language and associate it with class mobility. Shershahbadia community, whom local Surjapuris view as outsiders from Malda and Murshidabad district, speak in badia dialect and learn Bengali in schools.

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For Owaisi, his popularity on account of his impressive Urdu speeches could act as his strength here unlike in other parts of Bengal. Before coming to Bihar, he expanded his base in the Urdu speaking parts of Maharashtra where Deccan identity played a significant role in rewarding him with few MLAs and one MP.

In West Bengal, Urdu speakers are mainly spread in parts of Kolkata, Asansol subdivision in Burdwan and Islampur subdivision of Uttar Dinajpur. As per the West Bengal Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2012, in Islampur subdivision, in which Chakulia, Chopra, Islampur, Goalpokher, Karandighi assembly constituencies fall, Urdu has been given official status because a section of local Muslim population campaigned for it.

The appointment of an Urdu teacher in Daribhit High School near Islampur caused massive unrest among the local Bengali speaking refugee population in September 2018 and led to police firing resulting in two dead and three injured. Calling deceased local youths  as language martyrs, and to counter its Hindi belt party tag, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh this year declared September 20 as the West Bengal Mother Language Day.

The complex history of Uttar Dinajpur and Kishanganj

When partition happened in 1947, Radcliffe Line divided this region in a way that territorial link between North Bengal and South Bengal was snapped with erstwhile Purnea district sandwiched between both of them. Later State Reorganisation Commission approved the remapping of state boundaries in a way where parts of Kishanganj and Katihar subdivision was added to former West Dinajpur district to restore the link. Later West Dinajpur was further divided in 1992 into North and Dakshin Dinajpur.

This part of India has always flirted with many political experiments in the past. On the account of partition in 1946, Dinajpur and parts of Purnea were the epicentres of historic Tebhaga movement to demand two-third of the produce for sharecroppers. At that time local Muslim farmers formed the backbone of Kishan Sabha, the peasant front of the Communist Party of India. The history of peasant revolution did not end just there. In late 1960s northern part of West Dinajpur had become the heart of Naxalbari movement. The armed uprising was crushed by the then West Bengal government, but nonetheless, communist parties established their stronghold in this region. The local hero of Tebhaga movement, a poor Muslim labourer called Bacha Munshi whom Jyoti Basu respectfully called ‘Bachada’, later fought assembly elections on a Communist Party of India(Marxist) ticket and became MLA from Chopra constituency.

The most senior politician of this region is a septuagenarian figure Abdul Karim Chowdhury. He has been a record 10 times MLA and a former West Bengal minister in the Mamata Banerjee government. He is an old Congressman who has won both Chopra and Islampur constituencies since the early 1970s, after being sidelined by former Raiganj MP and senior minister at the Centre, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, joined TMC. After winning in 2001 assembly elections from Islampur constituency, he became the first TMC MLA from north Bengal.

Abdul Karim Chowdhary

TMC MLA Abdul Karim Chowdhary. Photo: Facebook

He holds the seat even today, however, local newspapers are regularly publishing news on his rift with TMC district president Kanhaiyalal Agarwal, a local Marwari businessman. Agarwal, who is a former Congress MLA from the same Islampur seat, joined TMC to contest Lok Sabha elections from Raiganj in 2019 but lost to BJP’s Debasree Chowdhury, who is currently serving as Union minister of state for women and child development in the Modi government.

Congress leader Dasmunshi and his wife Deepa Dasmunshi mentored several Muslim youths in this region during their time as MPs who went on to become MLAs in several constituencies of Uttar Dinajpur. However, most of them later joined TMC as Congress lost its influence in the region with 2014 Lok Sabha debacle and Mamata Banerjee actively wooed them to expand her party in the district. Prominent among them is Hamidul Rahman and Golam Rabbani who are now the sitting MLAs from Chopra and Goalpokher respectively. The latter is also the minister of state of labour in the current Mamata government.

Apart from political patronage, family links have remained an important factor that dominated the local politics in several constituencies. So, in the case of Golam Rabbani, his father was an old Congressman and elected panchayat official. In Chakulia (before delimitation part of Goalpokher) constituency, Ramzan Ali was a local strongman from All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), a Left front ally, who had won the seat from 1977 to 1991. After he was killed in 1994 in MLA hostel in Kolkata by his wife Talat Sultana, AIFB gave the ticket to Ramzan Ali’s brother Hafiz Alam Sairani who later on became relief minister in Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s government. Sairani later lost the seat to Congress leader Deepa Dasmunshi in 2006 assembly election.

However, when Deepa Dasmunshi decided to contest Raiganj Lok Sabha poll after her husband fell ill, in 2009 by-election AIFB fielded Ali Imran Ramz who won the seat. He is still the MLA from Chakulia and a strong Left contender for the upcoming elections. Recently there was news that Prashant Kishor team apparently tried to poach him for TMC, but members of that team denied such news and alleged Ali Imran Ramz himself approached them.

In Karandighi, a constituency with 53% Muslim population, has not had a Muslim MLA since Haji Sajjad Hussain who won the seat from 1971 to 1991. His brother Sheikh Sharafat Hussain was the MLA of Goalpokher in 1971–77. Both were Congressmen and enjoyed considerable support from local Rajbongshi population who form an important voting bloc. In recent years, be it AIFB, Congress or TMC, all preferred Rajbongshi candidate in this seat. Currently, Manodeb Sinha of TMC is the MLA in this constituency.

Who will be the Akhtarul Iman of Uttar Dinajpur?

Most political analysts agree that the key figure in the rise of AIMIM in Seemanchal is Akhtarul Iman. He won from the Amour constituency (next to Karandighi) with a huge margin in the latest Bihar assembly polls. Before joining AIMIM in 2015, he had already earned considerable political experience as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA from Kochadhaman and 2014 Lok Sabha candidate from Janta Dal (United).

Akhtarul Iman

Bihar AIMIM chief Akhtarul Iman. Photo: Facebook/Akhtarul Iman Fans ID.

The morning after the Bihar election results, I was sitting at a tea stall in Chakulia where a local Muslim cleric who runs a stationery shop made a valid point. He said, “It is just not enough to be famous to win elections. Akhtarul Iman Sahab organised at the grassroots for years to gift Owaisi Sahab with all these seats.”

To break the entrenched politics of patronage and family lineage, AIMIM needs to find its Akhtarul Iman of Uttar Dinajpur to convert the fame and curiosity of people regarding Barrister Asaduddin Owaisi into votes to enter Bengal state assembly from this region.


Dr. Adil Hossain is a freelance journalist based in Uttar Dinajpur, West Bengal, and holds a DPhil in International Development from the University of Oxford.


TV Channels Spent The Week Teaching Viewers How To Wear A Mask And What ‘Love-Jihad’ Is

By Shailaja Bajpai

26 November, 2020

Love,” observed News 24 anchor Sandeep Chaudhary, “is no longer allowed to remain love…there is an atmosphere of hatred being created around it…” he sighed, regretfully.

That’s because love is no longer just a four-letter word — it has been hyphenated with ‘jihad’ and the term has gained such currency that even those TV anchors and reporters who questioned the need for the Uttar Pradesh government’s ordinance against unlawful or forced conversions, found themselves repeatedly saying “love-jihad” in all their references to the ordinance.

Anchoring ‘love-jihad’

As was expected, anchors on NDTV India, NDTV 24×7 and India Today, like Rajdeep Sardesai, were distinctly uncomfortable with the UP government’s move, saying that it promoted a sense of hatred. However, several Hindi news channels were delighted.

In fact, some anchors, insisted that ‘love-jihad’ had nothing to do with a particular community at all despite being called “love-jihad”. “How have you decided that it’s for Muslims?” demanded an aggressive Zee Hindustan anchor Laxmi of panelist Jamin Shaukat Ali.

When Shaukat Ali, who was falsely described as a ‘for love-jihad’ panelist, called the ordinance “sexist and misogynist”, and argued that young women ought be allowed to choose whom they want to marry, irrespective of religion, the two anchors Laxmi and Sweta pounced on her, angrily: don’t you know that men are using “love jihad” to “fool women” into conversion, they asked. According to them, the ordinance was pro-women — “Was it not necessary for a girl’s security?” Lakshmi asked lawyer Pragya Bhushan who promptly agreed.

Such was their enthusiasm for the ordinance that Sweta announced Zee would do everything in its power to promote similar ordinances in every state.

Ministers of the UP government fanned out across channels to applaud Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for being a champion of women and to blandly refute the charge that there is anything communal about the move: “Actually, this ordinance is protecting the right of religion,” declared Sidharth Nath Singh, UP cabinet minister, without batting an eyelid (India Today).

Onto someone else who displayed commendable sangfroid. Believe it or not, it’s Arnab Goswami. Haven’t you noticed? The Republic TV anchor appears to have returned from his stint in jail a chastened man. On his 9pm debate, he’s been presenting such a calm exterior — it’s as if he’s pressed the ‘mute’ button on his sound and fury.

Arnab did not regulate the debate

On his Tuesday night show, Arnab was almost courteous: “I don’t think it is too much to ask you to listen to him?” he requested — yes, requested — a panellist. He also permitted others to speak, did not interrupt or editorialise every other second, so much so that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gaurav Bhatia was heard begging, “Arnab, please come in…Arnab, please regulate the debate”.

He’s not the only one to have had a change of heart, however momentary. This week has seen most of the news channels in Hindi and English do what they haven’t since late March — give the coronavirus day-long coverage and a prime spot on the nightly debates. For two reasons: the alarming rise in cases in several states and the promise of an early vaccine.

Between corona and China

Channels such as News 24, India Today, CNN News18 visited markets in Delhi and Mumbai where no one other than their reporters was wearing masks. “I am eating”, explained one passerby; “I forgot”, said another, sheepishly. “I am absolutely serious… you have to take this virus seriously,” commented anchor Zakka Jacob (CNN News18) while Zee News thought it was serious enough for its anchors to teach viewers how to wear a mask and which ones to buy.

Channel after channel described the various vaccines that will soon be available, especially to India and Professor Adrian Hill of Oxford University made the rounds of NDTV 24×7 and India Today after the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trials showed a 70 per cent efficacy.

However, some channels are incorrigible. Times Now laid its hands on another damning document that exposed ‘Congress Cash Corruption’ and ran with it — a whopping Rs 106 crore of unaccounted money reportedly sneaked into 24, Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters.

Meanwhile, News Nation, Zee Hindustan and News18 India continued their longstanding love affair with Pakistan and China. And not to worry: Zee Hindustan is winning the war for us without a single bullet being fired: almost every other day there is footage on the channel of (Indian) fighter aircraft criss-crossing the sky, strafing the (Chinese) targets beneath, which then explodes in balloons of smoke.

News Nation led down a deep tunnel to an Indian underground war centre in Ladakh that would strike “terror” in the hearts of Chinese soldiers—although why the channel would reveal this to the ‘enemy’ is anybody’s guess. NewsX and News 24 along with News18 India were more interested in the ‘revolt’ in Gilgit-Baltistan against Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan after the recent ‘fixed’ elections. Visuals show such violent protests you’d think war has been declared.

Speaking of Imran Khan, there was an absolutely delightful skit on him, ‘Fakir-e-Azam’ (India TV) with an actor who mimicked him to perfection — sadly, this was tucked away in the middle of a Monday afternoon when no one in their right minds should be watching TV news.


Uncertainties in Afghanistan

By G Parthasarathy

Nov 26, 2020

As the US prepares to reduce its forces and withdraw from Afghanistan, one has to look back at the circumstances that led to its military intervention. The Al-Qaeda, largely based in Afghanistan, was responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. The US responded with a massive aerial bombardment and invasion of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan within a month. Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who played host to Osama bin Laden and his followers, fled to Pakistan. That conflict has now lasted for over 19 years. An estimated 1.11 lakh Afghans and 4,092 Americans have died in the conflict. Estimates about the costs incurred by the US vary from $778 billion to $1 trillion. Pakistan was strangely described as a ‘major US ally’ and rewarded liberally with economic and military assistance. This assistance was used by the Pakistan’s army and air force against its own Pashtun people in tribal areas, including North Waziristan, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The ISI is encouraging the Taliban to resort to ‘salami slicing’ by taking control of more and more territory.

In his memoirs, A Promised Land, former President Barack Obama describes the situation prevailing during his visit to Afghanistan in 2012. He was informed by a highly reputed former CIA official that the Pakistan military/ISI not only ‘tolerated the presence of the Taliban leadership in Quetta, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but it was quietly assisting the Taliban, as a means of keeping the Afghan Government weak, and hedging against Pakistan’s arch rival, India.’ Obama adds: ‘The US Government had long tolerated such behaviour from a purported ally, of supporting it with billions of dollars in military and economic aid, despite its complicity with violent extremists, and its record, as a significant and irresponsible proliferator of nuclear weapons. This says something about the pretzel-like logic of US foreign policy.’ Despite his knowledge of such Pakistani duplicity, Obama sounded defensive, while speaking to Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari, to formally inform him about the US action to eliminate Osama bin Laden. There, however, appears to have been no expression of outrage by Obama to Zardari, for Pakistan providing safe haven to a terror mastermind in a cantonment which houses the Pakistan Defence Academy, and is located near its capital, Islamabad!

Pakistan is now in a strange position. Its Punjabi majority faces continuing resentment in Balochistan, where attempts to quell resistance and uprisings have been unsuccessful. But, over the past decades, there has been growing disquiet in the Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, despite Pashtuns being well represented in the Pakistan army. In 2014, the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan conducted a terrorist attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, killing 149 people. The then army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, responded with a massive attack backed by aerial bombings across North Waziristan.

Reporting from the scenes of the attack, Al Jazeera noted that about one million people were forced out of their homes by the offensive, described by Pakistan as a ‘final push’ to eradicate the presence of the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that had plagued North Waziristan for 14 years. Locals have little hope of returning home anytime soon. Thousands of homes and businesses had been levelled by air strikes and bulldozers, aid from the federal government was being cut, and security forces were asking residents to sign an agreement, taking collective responsibility for any militant presence in their areas, before they return home.

In neighbouring South Waziristan, Pakistani troops had carried out a large-scale ground offensive in 2009, displacing thousands, many of whom have not returned home. These developments have left refugees from the ruthless operation in North Waziristan sceptical of official promises of a swift end to their suffering. The ISI also facilitates cross-border attacks by its proteges in the Haqqani Taliban Network on Afghan forces. The Pashtuns are now making common cause to redress their grievances through the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, dedicated to waging a peaceful struggle for their democratic rights, reminiscent of the struggle of their legendary freedom fighter, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

The Taliban now control vast tracts of territory in Afghanistan, where they repeatedly attack even the capital, Kabul. With outgoing President Trump determined to drastically reduce the presence of the Afghan army from 4,500 to 2500 troops, the Taliban are not interested in a ceasefire that the Americans are desperately seeking. The Afghan government is a house divided, with Ghani’s erstwhile deputy, Abdullah Abdullah, nominated to negotiate with the Taliban in Doha, after visiting Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s policy continues to be based on duplicity. While making out that the ISI can influence the Taliban to exercise restraint in Afghanistan, the ISI is actually encouraging the Taliban to resort to ‘salami slicing’ by taking control of more and more territory across Afghanistan, much like China attempts on its borders with India. The US will have to be persuaded to resort to more extensive use of air power to deal with the Taliban.

It needs to be remembered that the Taliban are intensely disliked by a large number of Pashtuns in Afghanistan, who loathe their medieval extremism and their ISI masters. The non-Pashtun majority of Afghanistan comprising Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baloch and others, who constitute 58% of Afghanistan’s population, had fought the Taliban under the banner of the Northern Alliance, before the Americans stepped in. The US would have to be persuaded to deal with the challenges posed by the Taliban-Pakistan army nexus by uniting all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Apart from the Afghan Government, there are leaders like former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who can act as the ‘bridge’ to challenge the Taliban-Pakistan nexus.

A majority of Pashtuns strongly feel that the Durand Line was unjustly imposed on them as their border during British colonial rule in India. A Pashtun friend had told me that Afghanistan’s traditional borders were not along the Durand Line, but along the banks of the Indus at Attock!



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