Osama bin Laden
I have personal reasons to be elated with the 11-year-sentencing of the UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed in Lahore, Pakistan on Wednesday – though like most self-gratifying moments, I could be guilty of undue haste.
I feel a sense of lightness at the sentencing of a monster terrorist who masterminded the 26/11 attack in Mumbai in 2008, in which 166 innocent people were gunned down, including a very dear fellow journalist with whom I shared the newsroom at the English daily Times of India in the 1990s.
Though the sentence is too little, too late – and could still mean nothing in the days to come – Hafiz Saeed is the face of evil to me. Saeed’s men pumped bullets into my colleague and friend, Sabina Saikia, pulling her from below the bed where the terrified girl had hidden at the staccato sounds of machine guns outside her room in the iconic Taj Hotel of India’s commercial capital.
A nightmare that continues
The fateful evening was November 26, 2008, and I had long since left the Times of India. Now, I was busy marshalling the news desk of a national TV channel as the dreaded attack unfolded. I had no idea Sabina was in Mumbai to attend a wedding for a day and that she had checked in to the very hotel which had been watched for months by terrorists from across the border in Pakistan.
It would be four days before we knew who and how many people were murdered, as the killers holed themselves up in the ocean-front hotel before India’s security forces managed to neutralize them following dozens of hours of gun battles, watched 24/7 on television by a stunned nation.
Sabina’s was no ordinary casualty. She was the Czarina of Food, whose reviews in India’s best-selling English daily made or marred a restaurant’s reputation. She had dabbled in various news ‘beats,’ including crime and investigation, but found her seat at the high table of journalism as a food critic. There she had stayed put until those bullets took her life.
Anniversary after anniversary passed. I kept a tab on mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who was the co-founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group which had received its initial funding from none other than Osama bin Laden. This is the same Islamist group which was accused of an attack on India’s Parliament in 2001 – as well as the Pulwama suicide attack which killed more than 40 Indian soldiers in 2019, merely four months after Saeed was arrested for terror-financing.
All these years, Saeed was evil personified for many Indians. India knocked on the doors of global powers to have Saeed and his terror group sanctioned and watched in horror as the bearded, portly terrorist was arrested and released on more than one occasion by the Police-Judiciary interplay in Pakistan. India’s attempts to secure his extradition remained unanswered. The United States, since then, declared LeT responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attack and announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed’s head.
Breakthrough or strategic move?
At face value, Pakistan has cracked the whip on terrorism – the first condition for India to resume dialogue with its neighbor and arch rival. Logically, this should lower the tensions between the two nations, particularly strained after India revoked the autonomous status of the Jammu & Kashmir state last August. Saeed, in particular, was India’s nemesis in Kashmir Valley and has long-vowed to prise it out of India’s grasp.
But India is not too optimistic yet. It knows Pakistan has a critical meeting with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris this weekend, which could ‘blacklist’ it for insufficient action to keep a check on funding to terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. In that light, the country’s sentencing of the 70-year-old Saeed could just be strategic.
If it is blacklisted, Pakistan could lose up to $10 billion and be economically devastated. It would be an outcast in the international financial system. Its banking system would be crippled, remittances or access to international lending would be denied and foreign investors would keep the nation at arm’s length.
The last on Saeed has not been heard yet. But his sentencing is a balm, nevertheless, for the wounded soul in me.
You might be aware of details but they bear a recount before I stress that reformation of Islam can no longer be swept under the carpet in the name of “Islamophobia.”
Sri Lanka’s spice king Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim and his third son are now under detention in Sri Lanka. Two of his sons, Ahmed Ibrahim (33) and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim (31) were suicide bombers who blew up dozens in two of Colombo’s five-star hotels—Shangri La and Cinnamon on Sunday. In between, Ilham’s wife Fathima set off a bomb which killed her three children and herself as police raided their luxury home in Deamatogoda.
Another member of the family, millionaire’s son Ismail, became a fugitive after Sri Lanka forces discovered stockpiles of explosives at a compound in Wanathawillua where it is now believed Easter Sunday’s terrorists were trained. Police got onto Ismail’s trail after his involvement to destroy Buddhist shrines at Anuradhapura came to light last year.
This is not a poor family. They were the creamy layer of the island’s political deities. Sri Lanka had been good to them. Yet not one but all of them were sold to the ideology of hate and violence. How can now the Liberals of the world say that Islamic terrorists are the outcome of social and political oppression? Wasn’t Osama bin Laden a billionaire? Or the 9/11 bombers were filthy rich? If oppression makes Jihadi Muslims take to violence, how come other sufferers at the hands of “Satan US” haven’t turned into demons?
The longer free world keeps denying the violent ideology of Islam, farther we would be from rescuing Islam from itself. Just look at Islamist terror attacks around the world in the last dozen years, the Wikipedia entries run into scores of sheets, and you would have idea our denial is leaving behind a bloodied path for our children and grandchildren.
The adherents of Islam today number around 1.6 billion people or a quarter of humanity. Only 3 per cent of them are said to have violent leanings. That’s around 50 million individuals/families. Yet they have left the rest of over a billion peace-loving Muslims completely paralyzed. The moderate Muslims have no leadership. The reformist Muslims—such as Muhammad Taha, Irshad Manji, Maajid Nawaz, Abd al-Hamid Al-Ansari and Zuhdi Jasser among others (follow if not fund them)—are buried into obscurity by the Liberal world.
Yet this minuscule group of 50 million is adding thousands almost every month. The UN estimates in 2014, some 15,000 foreign fighters from at least 80 nations travelled to Syria to join radical jihadists. The Ibrahim family is a case in study. Tens of hundreds of youths of all nationalities and colour are being brainwashed by local networks before they are packed to Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh branches of Jihadi Islamists who then return and unleash terror in their home nations. This in turn further sinks peaceful local Muslims into a ghetto mindset, damaging generation upon generation, many of whom are easy pickings for violent ideology.
Why do I say Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh? Why local networks of Islamic State (IS)? What’s the fallout on local Muslims?
Let’s take the example of Sri Lanka terror attacks itself. Intelligence points to the role of a Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba charity, Idara Khidmat e Khalq, in the attacks. It has been radicalizing Sri Lanka Muslim youths since 2004. One of the suicide bombers received training in Pakistan. Jammat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a terror group, through its Indian branch, is accused of pushing fake Indian currency and gathering classified information on India. Zakir Naik (yes, the same Naik who has vocal powerful supporters in India’s public space) has often given his virulent lectures in Sri Lanka.
A Pew study of opinions in the Muslim world shows how many in these countries hold extremist views. Three-quarters of Pakistanis and more than two-fifths of the Bangladeshis and Iraqis feel that those who leave Islam should be put to death. More than 80 percent of Pakistanis and two-thirds of Bangladeshis and Iraqis regard Sharia law as the revealed word of God. Only a tiny fraction would allow their daughters to marry Christians. Only a small number regard honour killings of women as unjustified. A quarter of Bangladeshi and one in eight Pakistanis regarded suicide bombings as legitimate.
The fallout on local Muslims is palpable in Sri Lanka. Reports say that Pakistani refugees in Sri Lanka are being subjected to violent attacks and are fleeing. Muslims in rented houses are being evicted by resentful neighbours.
Yet our Liberals are in complete denial. I doubt if you have read the above information in your newspapers. Instead, the apologists are sweet-liming the theory that Sri Lanka happened in retaliation to shootings in Christchurch. There is no admission that it’s violent Islam and its front-runners who are refusing to let a 7th century religion conform to realities of 21st century.
Somalian Muslim reformist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says that Prophet Muhammad had two distinct phases of his life: (a) when he was wandering from door to door in Mecca and pleading to convert the local populace; (b) when he went to Medina and adopted a political philosophy to his creed.
Hirsi Ali classifies the Muslims of the world into three groupings: (1) Medina Muslims, the violent adherents; (2) Mecca Muslims or the peaceful ones; (3) and Modifying Muslims or the reformists.
Hirsi Ali suggests five essential reforms for Islam:
- Prophet Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status and the literalist reading of the Quran, particular the parts which were revealed in Medina;
- Investment in life after death instead of life before death;
- Sharia, the body of legislation derived from the Quran, the hadith and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence;
- The practice of empowering individuals to enforce Islamic law;
- The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war
The Islamist attacks in Sri Lanka are first of a kind in the island nation. India has long suffered from such violent attacks. But our Liberals and disgraceful media never allow a truthful discourse. They are also so much hand in gloves with the Marxists: A perfect example is a Muslim persecution in Xinjiang by China – yet our media, which takes out Mombatti jaloos (candle procession) on one unfortunate lynching, wouldn’t utter a word. You would have justifications for Zakir Naik, Rohingyas or state terror in Kashmir, Bengal and Kerala but never a word for Hindu refugees from Kashmir or those persecuted Hindu minorities who are being driven away in lakhs from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. They would never utter a word against the practice of “Triple Talaq” and “nikah halala.” They would never promote a debate on Quran which is the first step in weeding out its ills. To term 100s of Islamic terrorist attacks as acts of individuals would never allow a hard look at its ideology.
That’s what makes them so dangerous. That’s what makes Indian Muslims believe they are the persecuted lot in India. That’s what makes them resentful against Indians and affect the perception on their commitment to the nation.
From an Indian perspective, I believe the Lanka terror attacks hold a very important message for Indian Muslims. They must enforce a debate on Islam from within. There’s no gain hiding behind a cloak of persecution complex, however hard our disgraceful media tries to weave the deceit. Things are not worse than they ever were for them in independent India. Their one act of support for the majority’s legitimate demands would earn them unaccountable respect from the masses. BJP or Congress, none would be able to leave them by the wayside. No Asaduddin Owaisi would be able to manipulate them. The choice is theirs.
Saifuddin Soz is no ordinary Congress leader. Since 1980s, he’s often been in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha either on National Conference or Congress representation. A multiple-time Union minister, the last time under Manmohan Singh’s UPA between 2006-2009, he was one of the front-runners for the post of Vice-President in 2007 and 2012.
Soz draws his heft because of his influence in the Kashmir Valley. He surely has had access to separatist leaders of the state: A US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks claimed he was a go-between contact between the Indian government and secessionist forces. Indeed, the leaked cable of US Ambassador to India David Mulford to US State Department described Soz as a long-standing “contact” of the US Embassy’s political section.
Soz is now in news because of his new book. By claiming that the first choice of Kashmiris is independence, a stance similar to terrorists and secessionists for three decades now, he has put the glare on his party. Congress is also under the lens because the dreaded terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) run by Hafiz Saeed from Pakistan soil, has come out in praise of Congress.
In case the readers need a reminder, LeT has been banned as a terrorist organization by US, UK, European Union, Russia, Australia and of course India. Its stated objective is secession of Kashmir. A traumatized India has accused LeT for its involvement in the 2001 Indian Parliament and 2008 Mumbai attacks. Hafiz Saeed, as its founder in 1987, had received funding from Osama bin Laden.
Congress has further earned the ire of millions of Indians because one of its senior leaders, Ghulab Nabi Azad, once the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has accused Indian army of planning a “massacre” in the Valley. Congress’ dug the knife deeper with its insensitive attempt to defend Azad, As millions see it, Congress is rubbing shoulders with the secessionists and are deep in trenches with them against the Indian army.
Congress may yet take action against Soz or slap the wrist of Azad. But discerners see no sign from them on standing next to the brave and beleaguered Indian army. Their human rights begins and ends on Kathua; there is never a word of praise when our jawans gun down a terrorist; never a drop of tear for their martyrdom or wailing widows.
On June 22, our security forces killed 4 terrorists identified with Islamic State (IS) in Anantnag district. In view of the oncoming Amarnath Yatra, starting this week (June 28), it was a laudatory achievement. The whole nation stood up as one to applaud the action. But how did Congress react???
I looked for reactions on Congress’ official stand on the matter and how its’ leaders have reacted. The Congress’ twitter handle has nothing on Soz or Azad or terrorists tackled: all it has is a retweet of PC Chidambaram and his concern “Will-there-be-a-war-with-Pakistan?” This time-tested tactics is to weaken the resolve of Indian state, peddle appeasement which in turn is an invitation to secessionist forces for the next strike.
Rahul Gandhi’s tweets? No mention. In any case the Congress supreme tweets once in two days. And when he does it is to run down Modi and his government. Shashi Tharoor? Blank.
And what about the partners Congress’ could be in bed with for upcoming elections? That mahagathbandan to “save democracy” in the country? Mamta Bannerjee? Blank. Akhilesh Yadav? Blank. Sitaram Yechury? Blank. Arvind Kejriwal? Blank. None of them have anytime for our forces; the sacrifices they make; the goals they achieve; the threats and cost they pay to themselves and their families. It is no different to the length these forces went to deny the “surgical strike.”
The message that goes across is alarming: that secessionists are acceptable but not our soldiers; that a terrorists’ life is valuable while the ones of soldiers is not; that India-breakers have unconditional support while those for India-Unity can go and jump from the Himalayas.
You may have a like or dislike for Narendra Modi; you may feel elated or cheated on account of his term so far; but you can’t be standing in support of secessionist forces. Those who want to rule India can’t be seen in sync with India-breakers.
(Post-script: While the readers ponder over the piece; it’s worth dropping a line on Tariq Hammed Karra who is a “Pakistan proxy” and “recently joined the Congress in the presence of Smt. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi,” as Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out in his press conference on Friday.
While you rush to google the man called Karra, keep this in the back of your mind that Lutyens Media more or less blanked out Prasad-on-Karra comments. But more on this, some other day, some other time).
For its commercial and political implications, the Chabahar Port deal with Iran marks the finest achievement yet of Narendra Modi’s global engagements.
The commercial implications are obvious—India was hemmed in by Pakistan’s intransigence to refuse direct trade between India and Afghanistan and China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision had the potential to clamp manacles on India’s ankles.
In one stroke, India has freed itself from the curfew and it could now entertain visions of trade and infrastructure links with Middle East and Central Asia and still further with Russia and Europe.
Let’s take up the bare details before we look at the wider implications and how Pakistan, China and United States, the other key players in the region, would react to it—Afghanistan, as we know from the history of Hindu Kush in the colonial times, is a prized land. So far it was its geographical location but now is the promise of immense mineral wealth which, according to Geological Survey of United States, could be worth as much as $1 trillion, due to its iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium potential.
Afghanistan, unfortunately, has always attracted predators who couldn’t care less about the welfare of Afghan people; who could go to any length to destabilize it in order to retain a degree of control over the cursed land. United States, on one pretext or another, stays put in the name of eliminating terrorism while, as everybody knows, promoting the same in cohort with Saudi Arabia, and not long ago, Pakistan.
The birth of modern terrorism occurred in the wake of Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan as United States planted mujahideens, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia providing men, resources and ground support. The country was soon in chaos, split between war lords of one camp or other, and the lure of illicit heroin trade, which by a conservative estimate is second only to oil and gas in volume, has kept them involved. They aren’t going to leave the country in our lifetimes.
Afghanistan thus has every reason to distrust Pakistan—after all its bête noire Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar were traced there—and by inference United States. It sure receives significant infrastructural aid from China but so tied are the fortunes of the Middle Kingdom with Pakistan that Kabul can’t ignore the political implications.
India has diligently nurtured its ties with Afghanistan. Since 2001, it has provided Afghanistan with $2 billion development assistance. In December last year, Modi inaugurated Afghan parliament built on India’s aid of 90 million dollars. It has contributed $300 million on Salma dam and hydroelectric power plant at Herat which Modi is expected to inaugurate next month. In 2009, India had built a 217-km highway costing $100 million that links Zaranj with Delaram, located on Afghanistan-Iran border. From there, the local road connects to Chabahar.
India has always worried over its energy supply, most of which emanates from the Middle East. It receives 57 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East which would only increase manifolds in the coming years. Saudi Arabia is its biggest supplier but knowing the close equation between the Arab kingdom and Pakistan, India has always been keen to get Iran on its side. The latter, for this very reason—after all the Middle East conundrum is largely a tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for dominance in Muslim world—seeks a natural affinity with India. Both nations have close cultural and historical ties. Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century.
Chabahar is located on the Gulf of Oman, just 80km away from Gwadar which is the cornerstone of China’s pivot to Pakistan. Chabahar is just 299km east of world’s most critical passageway for oil tankers, the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran urgently wants this port to work as 85 percent of its seaborne traffic is managed by its Bandar Abbas port in the Strait of Hormuz. However, this port can only handle 100,000-metric ton ships. Large ships first offload at the Jebel Ali port in the United Arab Emirates en route to Iran. In contrast, Chabhar is a deep-water port and could process large ships. Chabahar would also allow both India and Iran to access large parts of Africa, Asia, Arabia and Australasia.
India has so far committed $500 million on the Chabahar project. It’s also assisting the 500-km rail link between Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj. The free trade zone of Chabahar could also encourage investment by its industries in urea, smelter and aluminium etc. In 2012, India had already used the port to transport a 100,000 metric ton shipment of wheat to Afghanistan.
According to the JV plans, India will develop two berths in Chabahar, one to handle container traffic and the other a multi-purpose cargo terminal. The MoU includes the sea-land access route to Afghanistan. India has plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran which in turn would link up the Indian-built 223-km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan.
India has also allayed worries on Iran’s part over its pending $6.5 billion payment. It has begun the process of payment in Euros, as requested by Turkey’s Halkbank. A cash-strapped Iran urgently needs investment and repayment of dues.
It’s a win-win all situation for all three nations. Both India and Iran are surrounded by hostile powers; both need avenues to grow. Afghanistan would finally be able to access the Indian Ocean.
Don’t expect United States to sit and watch this alignment of India-Afghanistan-Iran to take shape. Already we hear of encroachment of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. US could again find a reason to impose sanctions on Iran. India too remains handicapped by its financial and regulatory hurdles.
But such is the opportunity in front of India, Afghanistan and Iran that one expects Chabahar Port to be a reality soon enough. There sure would be hurdles and interventions, but the three must stand together for their own good.