SACW - 20 Aug 2018 | Nepal’s suffragette moment / Bangladesh: Release Shahidul Alam / Pakistan’s Bomb / India: Assam citizenship & Hindutva in 2019 elections / War in Afghanistan /

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Sun Aug 19 18:59:03 EDT 2018

South Asia Citizens Wire - 20 August 2018 - No. 2995 
[via South Asia Citizens Web - since 1996]

1. Bangladesh: Joint Statement Calls for the Release of Shahidul Alam
2. Nepal’s suffragette moment | Om Astha Rai
3. Managing Pakistan’s Bomb: Learning on the Job | Pervez Hoodbhoy, Zia Mian 
4. Independence Days of Pakistan and India | Nyla Ali Khan
5. Re-reading Tagore to Become Human | Aseem Shrivastava
6. Death of a Marxist: A Tribute to Samir Amin | Vijay Prashad
7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
 - India: Ex-Sena corporator detained in Dabholkar killing case Ex-Sena corporator detained in Dabholkar killing case
 - India: Terror attacks foiled in Maharashtra - Arrests of activists of Hindutva far-right groups (URLs to reports)
 - India: Hindu Mahasabha sets up first Hindu court on the lines of Shariat court
 - Rising Hate and Violence: What should Minorities do?
 - India: End Soft Approach Towards Sanatan Sanstha, Says Writer Konkan writer Damodar Mauzo
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
8. India: The BJP will revive the Hindutva plank for the next election | Ramachandra Guha 
9. India: Parivar tastes power - Made wiser by the 2004 defeat, the RSS and the BJP are working closely in the run-up to the 2019 polls | Makarand Gadgil
10. India - Assam: Non-citizens and history | Sanjib Baruah
11. Who Is Winning the War in Afghanistan? Depends on Which One | Rod Nordland
12. Russia: Nearly half of Russians ignorant invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – poll | Andrew Roth
13. Russia needs China more than China needs Russia: The forgotten communist quarrel | Serge Halimi

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, call for Shahidul Alam’s immediate and unconditional release, that all allegations against him be dropped, and that he receive proper medical care.

see also: 
Statement in Support of Shahidul Alam - National Geographic

Seven years after the Supreme Court issued a landmark verdict in the Sabina Damai vs Government of Nepal case, allowing children to obtain citizenship in the name of the mother alone, the 2015 Constitution and a draft bill in Parliament have set the clock back. Activists say the 2015 Constitution which was drafted, debated and promulgated mainly by men, denies equal citizenship rights to women, and the draft bill further entrenches Nepal’s patriarchal culture.

by Pervez Hoodbhoy, Zia Mian
On Saturday, Imran Khan will be sworn in as the next prime minister of Pakistan. His has been a sudden and rapid rise to power; he first came into politics in the late 1990s with no experience and has never held any government office. In his first public address to the nation after winning the July election, with Pakistan’s economy near bankruptcy, Khan said, “The biggest challenge we are facing is the economic crisis.” While this may well be the most pressing issue, the biggest and most important challenge Imran Khan will confront as prime minister is something he did not mention at all in his speech—how to manage the Bomb. The lives and well-being of Pakistan’s 200 million citizens and countless millions in India and elsewhere depend on how well he deals with the doomsday machine Pakistan’s Army and nuclear complex have worked so hard to build.

by Nyla Ali Khan
On the occasion of the Independence Days of Pakistan (August 14) and India (August 15), here is a highly relevant excerpt from my book

by Aseem Shrivastava
IN 1922, Rabindranath Tagore published one of his most important works, the play Mukta-Dhara. The story, rich in symbolism, is a simple yet powerful one. Mukta-Dhara has proved to be prophetic in that it presages the future of development in India over an eventful hundred years. Rivers have suffered one insult after another in independent India

by Vijay Prashad
Egyptian economist Samir Amin observed the dangers of our world but also its possibilities

 - India: Ex-Sena corporator detained in Dabholkar killing case Ex-Sena corporator detained in Dabholkar killing case
 - India: Terror attacks foiled in Maharashtra - Arrests of activists of Hindutva far-right groups (URLs to reports)
 - India: Hindu Mahasabha sets up first Hindu court on the lines of Shariat court
 - Rising Hate and Violence: What should Minorities do?
 - India: End Soft Approach Towards Sanatan Sanstha, Says Writer Konkan writer Damodar Mauzo

 -> available via:
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
by Ramachandra Guha
The Telegraph
August 18, 2018


In a book published in 2007, I wrote that "the world over, the rhetoric of modern democratic politics has been marked by two rather opposed rhetorical styles. The first appeals to hope, to popular aspirations for economic prosperity and social peace. The second appeals to fear, to sectional worries about being worsted or swamped by one's historic enemies."

The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru generally campaigned on a platform of hope. Nehru and his party promised voters economic growth, social peace and a higher standing for India in the world. He fought three general elections by these means. To be sure, he or his party did not achieve all these goals in office. However, to his credit, to win an election Nehru never opposed India to Pakistan, or Hindus to Muslims, or low castes to high castes, or the Hindi heartland to the rest of India.

On the other hand, the Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray always campaigned on a platform of fear. The party was founded in 1966; for the first 20 years of its existence, its main focus was on asserting that Mumbai was a city for Marathi-speakers alone. Shiv Sainiks first targeted South Indians who had come to the city to live and work; later, their focus was on keeping people from the North and East out of the metropolis. However, as the Shiv Sena sought to expand elsewhere in the state it acquired a new set of scapegoats. Now it painted Muslims as the main enemy of Mumbai, Maharashtra, and India.

Whether you stoke fear or promote hope is generally a question of character and belief. It was impossible for Nehru to ever demonize Muslims, and inconceivable that Thackeray would ever see Muslims as full and equal citizens of the republic.

Most politicians use hope or fear consistently through the course of their career. Narendra Modi is an exception. He has alternated between these two modes of campaigning. In his first few years as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi campaigned, and ruled, largely on a platform of fear. He spoke of the threats posed to his state and country by a certain "Mian Musharraf", of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins, of the Congress's alleged pandering to Muslims and of the Muslims' own alleged campaign of demographic conquest (" Hum paanch, hamare pachees", as he put it). Modi stoked the Indian fear of foreigners, the Gujarati fear of outsiders, and the Hindu fear of Muslims - all at once. He presented himself as a bulwark against the malevolent forces which threatened Gujarat in general and Gujarati Hindus in particular, insisting that he, and only he, could save the state from going under.

Halfway into his second full term as chief minister, Modi began re-presenting himself as a Vikash Purush, a Man of Development, who would bring growth and prosperity to the people of his state. He held Vibrant Gujarat summits at which industrialists promised thousands of crores; and he began to boast about his state's achievements in energy, infrastructure and agriculture. The investments were mostly unrealized; and the achievements were somewhat exaggerated. Nonetheless, it was clear that from about 2010 onwards Modi began moving away from the rhetoric of fear toward the rhetoric of hope. The move was not complete; he still remained somewhat suspicious of Muslims (as when he refused to wear a skull cap offered to him in 2011). Nonetheless, it seemed that some sort of brand makeover was underway to make the man appeal to more than the core constituency of Hindutva.

In his campaign for the 2014 general elections, Modi further underplayed communal issues in favour of economic ones. He promised 'Achchhe Din' for everyone and for young voters in particular, saying he would create crores of jobs for them. He also spoke of standing for 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', implying that religious minorities would also benefit from the economic growth his regime claimed it would bring.

After Modi won the elections and became prime minister, some commentators thought that he had finally shed his hard-line image. They hoped that he would now reconcile conflicting groups, rationalize archaic laws holding back our society and economy, and enhance India's standing in the world. They were further swayed by his grand slogans of 'Start Up India, Stand Up India', 'Make in India', 'Made in India'.

Indians under Modi were indeed starting new enterprises; but of lynching innocent men, not of manufacturing objects for export. Those commentators who had cheered him to victory now urged him to 'rein in the fringe elements'. He was unwilling to do so; meanwhile, his party president was happy to let the polarization proceed apace. A rash of hateful statements against Muslims were made by MPs - chiefly from UP - who had been hand-picked to contest elections by Amit Shah.

Then, in March 2017, one of those chosen MPs was made chief minister of his state. He had a track record as a baiter of minorities; and he was no promoter of development either. Despite five terms as an MP, his constituency was an economic, social, educational and medical disaster. In office, he continued to make incendiary statements aimed at the minorities. Yet, not only does he remain in office; he is sent by the Bharatiya Janata Party to other states to spread his message of hate and division.

Suspicion of those who are not Hindus is intrinsic to the institutional and ideological structure of the sangh parivar. Modi himself imbibed this early; witness the adulatory essays he wrote in praise of M.S. Golwalkar. For his own instrumental purposes, however, Modi shifted from demonizing Muslims during his 2014 campaign. Now, however, since Achchhe Din have manifestly not arrived, the party seems set to revive the Hindutva plank for the next election.

Consider in this regard the debate around the National Register of Citizens in Assam. When the first draft was released, the home minister, Rajnath Singh, said this was a preliminary list, and all those excluded would have a chance to apply again and appeal further if even then they didn't figure. This was both sober and sensible; for the Indian bureaucracy has a legendary reputation for incompetence. Soon, many cases of legitimate citizens being excluded came to light, including many respected Assamese professionals, the family of a former president of the republic, and even a BJP MLA.

The BJP president, however, immediately declared that all those not named in the first draft were infiltrators and needed to be deported. His remarks were picked up and amplified by his acolytes in other states. Leaders of the BJP in Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal, Mumbai and Delhi have all asked for the identification and deportation of 'foreigners' in their state or city. Lest they be dismissed as the 'fringe', let me note that in Jharkhand, a Harvard-educated and McKinsey-primed Union minister has called for such deportation too.

'Foreigners' in this context is, of course, a code word for 'Muslims'. With farmers in distress, Dalits angry, millions of young men still looking in vain for dignified employment, the BJP appears to have decided to fight the next general election on a platform of generating fear. Voters in different districts and states will be warned of the Assam example, and told that even the jobs they have are at risk because people of that other and foreign faith are against them.

It is likely that in his own speeches the prime minister will not emphasize communal language, or at least not excessively. Rather, he will stoke fears of another kind; that if he is not given a second term, a khichdi coalition led by some self-seeking or corrupt regional satrap will blow away all the promises he has made to the nation, perhaps blow away the nation itself. So, while the cadre will tell voters to fear those who are not Hindu, the leader will tell voters to fear other leaders. Having, in 2014, falsely promised Achchhe Din, Modi will now tell voters that his rivals are capable only of bringing Burre Din.

By Makarand Gadgil
Mumbai Mirror
August 12, 2018

Inside men in every ministry; frequent coordination meetings between them and ministers. The RSS is playing a bigger role than ever in bolstering the BJP.

In April this year, V S Kokje beat Raghav Reddy in the race to head the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the oldest and perhaps best-funded organisations under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) sprawling setup. Kokje’s victory was as clear an indication as possible of how closely the RSS has aligned itself with the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.

Reddy was backed by the VHP’s former working president Pravin Togadia, a trenchant critic of Modi and a constant thorn in the ruling BJP’s flesh. Reddy’s defeat was a clear signal from RSS bosses that nobody would be allowed to mess with Modi in the runup to the 2019 general elections.

As far as Togadia is concerned, he had to leave the VHP. He has, since, announced the formation of a new outfit. According to a senior RSS functionary in Nagpur, with whom this correspondent spoke last month, this is perhaps the smoothest that Sangh-BJP relations have been in decades. And the reason for this is that neither side wants a repeat of 2004, when the BJP lost power after a full five-year term in Delhi. “The constant friction between then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy L K Advani on one side, and Sangh stalwarts like the then-RSS chief K S Sudarshan, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s (BMS) Dattopant Thengdi and Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) Ashok Singhal on the other, cost the BJP the election back then,” he said.

The BJP’s seats dropped from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004 and its voteshare shrank from 24 per cent to 22 per cent. “Our post-poll research revealed that hordes of otherwise-faithful BJP voters stayed away from polling booths as they felt confused by different voices emanating from different Sangh Parivar organisations,” the RSS functionary said. And more than the loss of power, a senior BJP leader said, what alarmed the RSS was the aggression with which the Dr Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government went after the Sangh Parivar. “The Vajpayee government may not have been able to implement the RSS agenda, but the UPA government was hostile to the RSS. It started bandying about terms like ‘Hindu terror’ and people like Col. Prasad Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Singh and Swami Aseemanand were arrested. At one point, it was apparent that the government was working towards banning the RSS,” he said.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (left) shares an excellent rapport with Narendra Modi, who considers Bhagwat’s late father to be his guru

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (left) shares an excellent rapport with Narendra Modi, who considers Bhagwat’s late father to be his guru

So this time around, a lot of work has been done to make sure that the RSS and the government work in tandem. That Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat share an excellent rapport, has only helped this process. Their bond goes back to the days when Bhagwat’s father, Madhukar, was an RSS pracharak in Gujarat, and Modi considers him his guru.

From Day One in office, Modi has made sure there are regular coordination meetings between various RSS affiliates and the concerned ministries. Organisations like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Laghuudyog Bharati, and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) hold regular discussions with Modi’s Cabinet colleagues, and the government makes every effort to address their concerns. The results are visible. After Bhagwat expressed concern over Air India being taken over by foreign airlines, suitable changes were made to the bidding documents to favour Indian companies. When the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh raised a red flag, a moratorium was declared on the trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops. Similarly, after the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad objected to a report prepared by the TSR Subramanian Committee on educational reforms, the government promptly appointed a new panel.

So, unlike the Vajpayee government, which went ahead with its disinvestment programme and economic reforms despite objections from organisations within the Sangh Parivar, the Modi government has been open and amenable. This two-way communication is further facilitated by the presence of RSS men in all the key ministries. They are appointed either as officers on special duty or as personal secretaries/assistants to ministers. No file in the ministry moves without their consent. In Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s office, his Additional Personal Secretary Prabhat Tripathi, a veteran RSS hand, is the key man. In Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s office, his media advisor Harsh Rawat is at the centre of every decision taken. He and Pradhan have known each other since their days in the ABVP.

In the Prime Minister’s Office, Modi’s personal assistants Om Prakash Singh and Dinesh Thakur are RSS men. They have been with Modi since his days as the Gujarat chief minister. Key policy decisions are vetted by two RSS appointees in the Human Resource Development Ministry led by Prakash Javadekar. S Gurumurthy, RSS’s ideologue on economic issues and a man who is known to push his Swadeshi version of economics, was appointed as RBI’s part time non-executive director on Thursday.. These are the perks the RSS enjoys because BJP is in power. It is believed Gurumurthy was consulted by Modi before demonetisation.

The RSS had so far restricted its involvement in government affairs with issues related to security and social matters, but now its man will shape the central bank’s monetary policies, too, which, according to Gurumurthy, destroyed Indian business with high interest rates.

The RSS has never asked its cadres to vote for any particular party.

The RSS has never asked its cadres to vote for any particular party.

RSS machinery behind BJP

With 36 organisations under the Sangh Parivar umbrella, it is active in a wide variety of fields — from labour activism to arts and culture. Feedback received from these organisations helps the RSS to advice the government. And its word counts; from the selection of candidates during elections, to policy formulation to key appointments. “When we select candidates, we seek feedback from a cross-section of people, including the RSS. But the RSS’s advice is not binding and they, too, know where to draw the line,” said a BJP leader who did not wish to be identified. He quoted the example of Rekha Khedekar being nominated as the BJP candidate in the Assembly elections from Mehkar, in the Buldhana district of Maharashtra, in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Khedekar is the wife of Maratha Seva Sangh president Purshottam Khedekar, who regularly spits venom at the RSS. Khedekar was victorious on two occasions, but lost in 2009.

The RSS plays an important role during elections — helping in registering new voters, organising doorto-door campaigns and manning polling booths. “But you will never see a single officebearer of the RSS sharing the stage at any of our programmes. They remain in the background and work silently,” said a senior BJP leader.

Two or three months before elections, RSS volunteers under the banner of the Matdata Jagruti Manch (Forum for Awakening Voters) start doing the rounds of the areas assigned to them. They talk about the importance of voting and important local, state-level and national issues. “But they do not tell voters who to vote for,” the BJP leader, quoted above, said.

If RSS workers don’t vigorously campaign, then it is a message to voters that all is not well between the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. But that is a sort of dog whistle only dedicated voters can hear. Others may not be able to pick up on this signal. Another senior BJP leader from Maharashtra, who was a full-time ABVP activist in his youth, said there is no need for the RSS to issue a diktat during elections. “A person who is an RSS volunteer and is a factory worker, will gravitate naturally towards the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.. So when it comes to voting, his first choice is obviously the BJP,” he said.

BJP’s national secretary Sunil Deodhar, who spent eight years as a pracharak in the Northeast, said RSS volunteers are at work round-the-year. “That helps the BJP at the time of elections,” he said. A senior Sangh functionary said that except on two occasions — in 1952, when the Jan Sangh was formed, and in 1977, when elections took place in the backdrop of the Emergency — the RSS has never asked its cadres to vote for any particular party. “Whatever they do, they do it voluntarily. After all, they are swayamsevaks. However, BJP leaders seek our guidance and feedback, which we provide.”

(L) K S Sudarshan shared an acrimonoius relationship with Vajpayee and Advani; (R) Pravin Togadia, once Modi’s best friend, was thrown out of the VHP earlier this year

(L) K S Sudarshan shared an acrimonoius relationship with Vajpayee and Advani; (R) Pravin Togadia, once Modi’s best friend, was thrown out of the VHP earlier this year

In June this year, RSS top bosses — including general secretary Bhayyaji Joshi and joint general secretaries Dattatray Hosbale and Krishna Gopal — met with the BJP’s organising general secretaries. BJP president Amit Shah was present at this meeting where the RSS presented its state-wise feedback, including an assessment of the election-bound states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP’s organising general secretaries are full-time RSS pracharaks sent on deputation to the BJP.

Many more such coordination meetings are expected to take place in the run-up to the general elections of 2019. In fact, the BJP’s Sampark for Samarthan programme – under which 4,000 top leaders are meeting prominent personalities and giving them information about the work done by the party — was born out of the feedback given by the RSS.

During the Surajkund RSS-BJP conclave in June, the Sangh leadership spoke about the growing discontent among Dalits, the agrarian crisis in several states and the growing threat of urban Maoism.. The recent decision by the Modi government to hike the minimum support price for 21 Kharif crops by 40 to 50 per cent, was based on this feedback, said a Union government minister.

Another RSS functionary, who spoke with this correspondent at the Chembur residence of a BJP leader, said: “During the same meeting, the RSS handed over a list of more than a hundred BJP MPs whose prospects in 2019 do not look too bright. The list included five MPs from Maharashtra. These MPs are unlikely to get BJP tickets for the 2019 elections.”

Saba Naqvi, author of Shades of Saffron, an account of the BJP’s journey, believes both the RSS and the BJP have learnt the importance of preserving power. “The RSS and the BJP are completely new species now. Being in power helps you appoint your people in key positions and push your agenda. Bhagwat and Modi understand the importance of that,” she said.

by Sanjib Baruah
Print edition : August 31, 2018

People line up at an NRC Seva Kendra in Tezpur on July 30 to check whether their names are on the draft list.

At an NRC verification centre in Morigaon district on July 11.
It is a shame that our contemporary public discourse on amending citizenship laws aims primarily at containing spatial mobility.

THERE is a wide variety of reasons why a person’s name may not have appeared in the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. In all, 3.76 million applications for citizenship have been rejected and a final decision has been put on hold in a quarter million cases. However, the final NRC is likely to have fewer exclusions than in the draft.

The complexity of what is involved in updating the NRC deserves close attention. Prateek Hajela, the State Coordinator for updating the NRC, describes the process as “technology-driven, transparent and objective”. But he is the first to admit that “computers only work for submitting the documents to us, and sending it to the issuing authority”. Beyond this, they are of limited use because the identification documents used in the process, except PAN cards, are not stored in any computerised database. The updating of the NRC, therefore, basically relies on paper documents of various kinds and old-fashioned manual verification of such documents by the NRC staff.

The NRC exercise exemplifies the fact that contrary to the talk of a paperless society, the growing use of electronic technologies has actually increased the need for paper documents and underlined their importance in people’s lives. Legacy data are at the heart of the process. To be included in the NRC one has to identify an ancestor whose name appears in either the NRC of 1951 or a pre-1971 electoral roll, and provide documentary evidence of linkage with that person. Even with the substantial assistance available at the NRC Seva Kendras, this can be a challenge for many people.

Consider a person who lives in Assam but was not born in the State. In order to process his or her legacy data, NRC officials have had to make as many as 600,000 requests for “legacy verification” to various State governments. The response from them has been poor and tardy. Some States responded to fewer than 1 per cent of the requests. More than 100,000 requests for legacy verification were made to the West Bengal government, but the NRC authorities received responses only in 6.5 per cent of the requests. The history of the reorganisation of Assam has also complicated the process. The relevant records of some current residents of Assam, for example, could be in an office in Shillong, which was the capital of undivided Assam but is now under the jurisdiction of the Meghalaya State administration. In other words, the verification of legacy data would depend on the cooperation of an office under the jurisdiction of another State government.

The challenges can be especially daunting for poor people with limited literacy. The Assamese graphic novelist Parismita Singh, author of The Hotel at the End of the World (Penguin, 2009), has written touchingly of the experience of villagers near Biswanath Chariali, an area where she grew up. Many in that area spoke to her about a lot of kheli-meli, confusion. A different spelling of a name of a grand parent in a voters list of decades past was sometimes the source of anomaly. Women were particularly vulnerable since “their names almost never appear on land records, or family trees, or school enrolment lists”. A father and a child do not always have the same surname: a woman with the birth-name Khatun may be Bibi after marriage. And for some people in the area “documents have scattered in the vicissitudes of displacement through floods and political disturbances, ethnic clashes, communal riots, violence”.

The updating process, however, has not been reliant on paper documents in every part of Assam. The administrative rules developed for this purpose allows for the use of the category “original inhabitant”. In the case of persons in this category, local administrators were able to determine his or her eligibility for inclusion in the NRC “through field verifications”. At least in the partial draft made public on New Year’s Day, the percentage of people included in it was much higher for areas with large numbers of people identified as belonging to the “original inhabitant” category than for some other areas. The procedure was a source of some controversy. A Supreme Court bench had to address complaints that the label creates and privileges certain groups of people.

Nevertheless, the efforts made by the two-person Supreme Court bench and those in charge of the process to make the final NRC complete and accurate are impressive; and they are likely to pay off. But it is crucial that we focus attention on those whose names will not appear in the final NRC. [ . . .]

Full text at:

by Rod Nordland
The New York Times
 Aug. 18, 2018   

Rod Nordland has been reporting on Afghanistan’s travails since well before the American-led invasion that booted the Taliban from power in 2001. For the past eight years, he has been a correspondent and then Kabul bureau chief for The New York Times, which has expanded its presence in the country even as many other news organizations have withdrawn.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two wars are convulsing Afghanistan, the war of blood and guts, and the war of truth and lies. Both have been amassing casualties at a remarkable rate recently.

The first is that messy war in which, just in the past week, more than 40 high school students were blown to pieces in their classroom, hundreds of bodies were left abandoned for a week in the streets of Ghazni city or dumped in a river, and two important Afghan Army units were destroyed, almost to the last soldier.

The other is the war in which most of that, according to official accounts, did not happen — or at least was not as bad as it sounded. Not until late on the third day of the Taliban’s assault on Ghazni did President Ashraf Ghani’s aides even inform him of the desperation level there, two government officials said privately; Mr. Ghani himself later confirmed that publicly. By then the Taliban had control of nearly every neighborhood.
Fighting ceases in Afghanistan's Ghazni, but fear remainsCreditVideo by AFP news agency

Government spokesmen, confronted with a crisis, basically responded by asserting that everything was fine. They repeatedly denied that Taliban fighters were in control of Ghazni. By day six, when the insurgents no longer were in control, official denials converged with the truth.

The American military’s chief spokesman, Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, insisted there was no big problem — just insurgents looking for “inconsequential headlines.”

Discerning fact from fiction is challenging in any war, of course. But in Afghanistan, where most of the population has known only war, narratives are often total contradictions of one another.

How We Reported

An Afghan soldier at a check point on the highway between Ghazni and Kabul, the capital.CreditMohammad Ismail/Reuters

We had a reporter inside Ghazni, canvassing neighborhoods. Although the country’s cellphone networks failed in Ghazni, making it hard to check the official narrative, we also found people who could get a cell signal on the outskirts or upper floors of Ghazni buildings, or who fled and brought their stories to us.

One of our reporters, Fahim Abed, got through on the phone to the director of Ghazni Hospital, Baz Mohammad Hemat, who spoke from a hospital floor awash in blood, bodies stacked in storerooms because the morgue was full. Dr. Hemat counted 113 dead on day two, and more arriving hourly. Most were in uniform, belying official claims of minimal casualties.

In Ajristan District, our Afghan reporters heard that disaster had befallen an elite Army commando unit defending that remote area. As our reporter Jawad Sukhanyar called around to officials in the surrounding areas, he found that the Ministry of Defense was doing the same thing; they didn’t know what had happened either.

It turned out that insurgent suicide bombers destroyed the commando company’s base, and as the defenders fled, Taliban fighters picked them off. Out of a base force of more than 100 commandos, police and militia fighters, only 22 survived, fleeing into the desert with no water or food.

Jawad reached a surviving commando, Sgt. Eid Mohammad, 30, on the phone. He described how they had drunk one another’s urine while fleeing pro-Taliban Kuchi nomads.

The sergeant also repeated a version of something widely heard in the 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces actively at war now: “No one from the government gave us anything. All we got was promises, no action.”

That was true 300 miles north of Ghazni, at a place called Chinese Camp, where an Afghan Army company struggled through three days of heavy Taliban attacks, begging for resupply and reinforcements, and especially air support, which were promised, but never arrived.

Our reporter Najim Rahim had been on the phone every day for a week with the defenders, including their captain, who had become Najim’s friend. On Sunday someone else answered the captain’s phone. “I started crying when I heard he was killed,” Najim said.

By Tuesday the defenders at Chinese Camp were almost out of ammunition, they told Najim. Half were dead or wounded and the rest surrendered except for a lieutenant who escaped. Najim managed to track him down, so we knew what had happened.

Afghan officials at the Ministry of Defense said they could not provide an account of Chinese Camp casualties. “We’re working on figuring out how many soldiers were there and when we do, we’ll share it,” said Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, a ministry spokesman.

Lots more happened this past week, more than we could cover except briefly. On Monday, Taliban fighters overran an Afghan border police unit defending the frontier with Tajikistan in northern Takhar Province, killing 12. An Afghan National Army unit was destroyed in northern Baghlan Province, where officials admitted that 39 soldiers were killed, two wounded and two escaped.

Who is winning?

Members of the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in 2016.CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

This is often the first question arriving diplomats ask. Every year there’s a new group of them — most countries do not allow them to stay more than a year, sometimes two. They are usually well briefed in the official narrative that things are improving. But many spend their entire tours inside a fortified embassy.

On paper, the Afghan government and its 40-plus international coalition allies, predominantly Americans, have all the advantages over the insurgents. The Afghan military and police have an authorized strength of 350,000, their payroll funded by international partners. The American military now number 14,000, a mix of trainers, advisers and Special Operations members.

The Afghans also have their own small air force, and extensive support from American drones, jet bombers and helicopter gunships.

The Taliban have been estimated by American military officials to number 20,000 to 40,000 active fighters, an estimate that has not changed much for years even though the Afghan government claims it has been killing nearly a thousand a month.

The true size of the Afghan military is difficult to assess. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, an American government watchdog agency, reported in July that the Afghan National Army was at 86 percent of its authorized strength, and that all security forces, police, army and specialized units totaled 310,000. The agency also said the attrition rate for the Afghan National Army was running at 2 percent a month. If confirmed, that would translate into roughly a quarter of the total per year.

Full data on attrition, which includes desertions, failure to re-enlist and casualties, was now secret, the agency said, a decision taken by the American military, which the agency criticized.

Also classified as secret since last year has been the true casualty toll for the Afghan military. When those figures were last released by Afghan government officials, in 2016, more than 6,000 soldiers and police officers were being killed annually. The outgoing American military commander at the end of 2014, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, called the Afghan government losses, then about 5,000 fatalities a year, “unsustainable.”

Many Afghan officials and military officers say privately that the losses have worsened since then. “Casualties among Afghan forces are higher than they have ever been,” said the retired general Atiqullah Amarkhel, a military analyst in Kabul.

If the death toll of the past week — more than 400 Afghan soldiers and police officers — were to continue for a year, the annual total would be triple the worst known year so far.

The Afghan military and its American allies have officially shifted their strategy to one that emphasizes protecting population centers — places like Ghazni city — rather than holding onto territory — places like Ghormach and Ajristan Districts, where those army units were overwhelmed last week. The military has been slow to make that shift, however.

The Taliban vowed this year to retake cities and provinces, but so far they have taken no provinces and three cities, but only briefly. And most of Afghanistan’s population lives under government, not Taliban, control.

Even by territorial standards, according to the American military’s reckoning, the Afghan security forces have been doing well lately. When the international coalition reduced its 140,000-soldier presence, handing security responsibility to Afghan forces, the insurgents quickly expanded their control throughout the country. But in the past year, the military said, that expansion has been halted.

As of July 30, the government controlled 58.5 percent of the country, the insurgents 19.4 percent, with the remaining 22 percent contested, according to the American military.

Other information raises serious questions about the accuracy of that data. In Ghazni Province, for example, only one of its 19 districts was listed by the American military as under insurgent control. But local officials said last week that only three Ghazni districts were clearly government-controlled.

In northern Kunduz Province, and in southern Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul Provinces, most districts are listed as under government control or contested. But in none of them would it be safe for a government official to leave the provincial capital without a heavily armed escort.

Message Control

Last week supporters of the Afghan government criticized reporting by The New York Times on the conflict, with some calling it The Taliban Times and questioning the casualty counts. One of our reporters, Fatima Faizi, responded by uploading on Facebook excerpts from quotations from government officials — the sources for those figures. Fatima is from Ghazni and at the time her cousin was among those missing in the fighting there. (He was later found, wounded but safe.).

The government’s efforts at message management often collide with an inclination by many ordinary Afghans and local officials to speak their minds. They are often the best sources for information.

When phone service was restored in Ghazni and we finally reached Mohammad Arif Noori, the spokesman for the governor, he did not try to obscure what had just happened. There were too few security forces in the city, he said, and they were using outdated equipment. “The reason most parts of Ghazni city collapsed was a lack of coordination between police and N.D.S. forces,” he said, referring to the National Directorate for Security, a paramilitary intelligence service.

Safe Is a Relative Term

An empty alcove in Bamian, Afghanistan, where a Buddha once stood.CreditWakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even parts of the country considered safe have been badly affected. Take Bamian Province, home of the standing Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban. Bamian attracted a range of foreign aid groups with ambitious projects: a ski slope, to promote tourism; a girl’s bicycle team.

It is no longer possible to go there safely. The last airline that served Bamian, Kam Air, stopped flying this year after many foreign crew members were killed during an insurgent attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Both roads into Bamian are blocked by Taliban units, in Wardak Province and in Parwan Province’s Ghorband Valley. “The government has no will to clear the Taliban from Ghorband valley,” said Ghulam Bahauddin Jilani, the Parwan provincial council chairman.

In provinces like Oruzgan where the insurgents have much more support, the situation is even more difficult. Amir Mohammad Barakzai, head of the provincial council there, said officials have asked in vain for more resources to fight the insurgents, who are now are on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Tarinkot. “The Taliban are winning this war,” Mr. Barakzai said.

In Helmand Province, where the Taliban dominates, Bashir Ahmad Shakirn, head of the security committee, said corruption is the main reason the government does so poorly. “I don’t believe the Taliban are stronger than us, what makes them stronger is the incompetence of our officials,” he said. “Their priority is not winning the war but their personal benefits.”

Two Helmand army corps commanders in a row were replaced and charged with corruption in 2016 and 2017.

The Afghan security forces and the police receive about $6 billion annually, most of it from the United States. But corruption eats away at that money, as reflected in the constant complaints by local units that they are underfed and outgunned.

“If we compare the anti-government forces with Afghan security forces, the Taliban are better equipped, have more resources, and have access to modern weapons,” said a councilman, Abdul Wali, in Logar Province. “If things continue like this, the Taliban will be the winners.”

How This Ends

Marines in Helmand Province in 2010. American commanders have long since stopped talking about winning in Afghanistan.CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

Nesar Ahmad Mehari is the spokesman for the governor of western Farah Province, where the capital city, Farah, was overrun by the Taliban for a day in May. Things are better now, he said, as American troops fight with Afghan commandos. But other officials say that in some neighborhoods, insurgents walk around freely. “I think no one will win this war,” Mr. Mehari said. “We have seen only destruction and human losses from both sides since 17 years and this will continue for years to come with the same bloodshed.”

American commanders have long since stopped talking about winning in Afghanistan. None see how 14,000 American troops can achieve what 110,000 could not.

Taliban leaders have always insisted that as long as any American troops remained in Afghanistan, they would negotiate peace only with the Americans. But American officials had insisted on an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process.”

Aides to President Trump, who once called the Afghanistan war a total disaster, have moved to authorize such talks. A State Department official met in July with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, according to Taliban officials.

In the past, Afghan officials have opposed that sort of American role, but apparently no longer. “As President Ghani has indicated that he’s ready to pursue something without conditions, that speaks for itself,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the American military’s Central Command, when asked about American-initiated talks during a visit here on July 23. “Everything can be on the table here as we move forward with this Afghan-led process.”

In June, the Afghan government and the Taliban declared separate cease-fires, which overlapped for the Eid holiday that ended Ramadan. The cease-fire was so successful that no violent incidents broke out between Taliban and government sides. (There were some suicide attacks by their mutual enemy, the Islamic State.)

Insurgents came into towns and cities and mingled with locals in a remarkable outpouring of pro-peace sentiment by people on both sides, who were taking selfies with one another. Even women came out to see the insurgents, who once had hounded them off the streets. It was a moment many hope to see repeated, and President Ghani has offered another cease-fire for the Eid al-Adha holiday that begins Tuesday.

Some analysts think the Taliban’s remarkable push on so many fronts in the past week may actually be an effort by the insurgents to gain as much ground as possible before a cease-fire and any further steps toward peace.

“They can join the peace process in a stronger position, and show they are not doing it due to military pressure,” said Intizar Khadim, an Afghan political analyst.

Others fear that Ghazni and the bloody past week may have made peace prospects dimmer than ever. The final death toll in Ghazni, a senior official told us, was 155 police and soldiers, 60 to 70 civilians, and 430 insurgents. As many as 200 security forces died elsewhere around the country last week. That left thousands of relatives and friends with reasons to harbor hatred.

On the Taliban side, supporters may well be wary of people like Col. Farid Ahmad Mashal, the Ghazni police chief, who posted his own photo on Facebook with the corpses of Taliban fighters. “Do not show any mercy to the enemy,” he wrote on Facebook.

Rod Nordland reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Reporting was contributed from Afghanistan by Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi and Jawad Sukhanyar from Kabul; Najim Rahim from Mazar-i-Sharif; Taimoor Shah from Kandahar; Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost; Zabihullah Ghazi from Jalalabad; Mohammad Saber from Herat; and an employee of The New York Times from Ghazni.

A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 19, 2018, on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Who’s Winning the War in Afghanistan? Depends Which One.

by Andrew Roth
The Guardian
19 August 2018

Experts say survey on Warsaw Pact intervention anniversary reflects resurgence of ‘Brezhnev-era propaganda’

Andrew Roth in Moscow

A worker cleans a sculpture of the hammer and sickle symbol at the VDNKh in Moscow.
Nostalgia has grown for the Soviet Union in Russia. Photograph: Maxim Marmur/AP

More than a third of Russians say the Soviet Union was correct to intervene in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and nearly half of the population says it knows nothing about the invasion at all, according to new polling data obtained by the Guardian before its release on the 50th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague spring.

The polling data reflects the resurgence of “Brezhnev-era propaganda, stereotypes of the Soviet period,” said Lev Gudkov of Russia’s Levada Center, which will release the results on Monday.

More than a fifth of Russians blamed a “subversive action by western countries” to split the communist bloc for a Czechoslovak programme of liberalisation that ended in a Soviet-led invasion of the communist country.

The Warsaw Pact intervention was seen as a turning point for the Soviet legacy in Europe, but its anniversary on Monday will largely pass unnoticed in Russia, where politicians and television stations have tended to stay quiet on the topic.

“Generally speaking, the authorities don’t want to pay any attention to the anniversary,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Nostalgia has grown for the Soviet Union in Russia, where the communist legacy is largely associated with the victory over Nazi Germany in the second world war and its superpower status. Observers, however, say that less vaunted moments in the Soviet past are being forgotten or reinterpreted through the prism of conspiracy theory.

On the night of 20 August 1968, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia in tanks to halt a campaign of liberal reforms billed as “socialism with a human face”. The reformist Communist party leader Alexander Dubček was ousted. The intervention, accompanied by photographs of Soviet tanks in Prague, led to western condemnation and a split with some western Communist parties.

The invasion also left more than 80 dead, many from gunshot wounds, according to internal Czechoslovak reports released 20 years later, in the twilight of communism.

“These events are being forced out of the public memory,” Gudkov said.

The poll showed that an about 36% of Russians thought the Soviet Union certainly or was likely to have “acted correctly”in sending troops into Czechoslovakia. Another 45% had difficult answering whether the Soviet Union acted correctly or not – an increase from 34% in 2003.

Just 10% of 18 to 35-year-olds said they knew about the Prague spring, Gudkov said. “Young people don’t know and don’t want to know about what happened,” he said.

The new polling results reflected popular reactions to Russian geopolitical realities, such as the country’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, he said. “I think this is the manifestation of the mass amorality of a great power, which has become the basis of the Russian imperialist revival under Putin and the support of the annexation of Crimea.”

About a quarter of Russians said they had heard about the eight protesters who held a demonstration in Red Square in 1968 to protest against the invasion, holding signs that read “we are losing our best friends” and “for our freedom and yours”. The protesters later spent years in prison camps or locked away in psychiatric wards.

“The state’s interest is to hide the real meaning of the historical events of this kind. In their interpretation Russian history is the history of statesmen and military men, not citizens,” Kolesnikov said.

The events have also been tainted by conspiracy theory, he said. A television documentary in 2015 called Warsaw Pact: Declassified Pages was so aggressive in justifying the intervention that it provoked a démarche from the Czech foreign ministry. Unverified reports about secret arms caches were repeated in the documentary.

In the poll, 21% of respondents blamed a Western plot and 23% blamed a coup attempt by anti-Soviet leaders in Czechoslovakia for the events of 1968. An estimated 18% of Russians called it a “rebellion against a regime installed by the Soviet Union” – down from 31% in 2008.

by Serge Halimi
Le Monde Diplomatique
August 2018

Even experts get things wrong. A book by journalist François Fejtő begins: ‘17 October 1961 is a date that will be remembered by the authors of history textbooks.’ It has been remembered, but not for the reason he thought. Today the date is mostly associated with French police killing tens of Algerian protestors in Paris, whereas Fejtő, writing about the ‘great communist schism’ in 1964, thought it marked ‘the end of Soviet hegemony over the international communist movement’ (1). On that day, General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev addressed the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), with western journalists present, and attacked the then pro-Chinese Albanian communists.

There are two striking aspects to this great Sino-Soviet ideological quarrel, which in 1969 descended into armed conflict. First, it has largely been forgotten. Almost no one talks about it, though it tore the communist movement apart and transformed international relations for a quarter of a century. Second, it was highly secret. The deterioration of relations between the world’s two main communist parties, and the states they ran, began in 1956. But the quarrel, and the details of all the disagreements that amplified it, only became public knowledge five years later. Until 17 October 1961, Fejtő writes, ‘both parties tried to keep their dispute secret. Criticisms, reproaches and grievances were expressed cryptically, with only just enough transparency to ensure that those being targeted did not misunderstand the meaning of the warning’ (2).

The Chinese attacked Yugoslav leaders’ ‘revisionism’ with especial vehemence after the USSR and pro-Soviet parties renewed ties with Tito. And the Soviets targeted the Albanians because they were aligned with China. Nevertheless, collective discipline (and the absence of Twitter) meant that even a February 1956 speech by the Soviet leader to an audience of petrified communist delegates, detailing the crimes attributed to his predecessor Joseph Stalin, remained secret for several weeks. The authenticity of the indictment was even questioned by some who heard, or read, a speech they were unlikely to forget.

Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin opened the floodgates of Sino-Soviet grievances. Chairman Mao couldn’t accept that such an important decision, whose consequences were easy to imagine for the whole international communist movement, should be a matter for the Soviet communist party alone. Mao saw no need for criticism of the cult of personality, especially in China, and he feared that the denunciation of Stalin would weaken every communist leader who had supported Stalin, which nearly all the survivors had.

Mao, however, had not aligned his strategy with the generally disastrous advice of his Soviet comrades. Stalin, though ill-disposed to having his authority challenged, admitted as much in 1948, revealing that the Chinese hadn’t complied when ‘we told them brutally that in our opinion the Chinese uprising had no chance of success, so they should seek a modus vivendi with Chiang Kai-shek, join his government and disband their army. They did the opposite, and today everyone can see: they’re in the process of beating Chiang Kai-shek’ (3).

Besides the ‘Stalin Question’ (the title of a September 1963 article by the Communist Party of China setting out its differences with the Soviets), the main disagreement between the parties was about the issue of peaceful coexistence. In 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev had, according to the Chinese, espoused ‘erroneous views on such questions as imperialism and war and peace’ (4).

Which views? Russia, having conquered the dread of encirclement that characterised the Stalinist period, imagined that the (then genuine) appeal of the Soviet model might entice new states into its ambit, without a showdown with imperialism. Nuclear weapons, which ‘make no class distinctions’, made the Soviets jointly responsible with the US for world peace. The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 seemed to them to confirm this.

Mao rejected this as ‘revisionism’. He thought that, as ‘socialist forces are overwhelmingly superior to the imperialist forces,’ they should take advantage of it. But Khrushchev, because of his fear of US ‘paper tigers’ and his suspect entente with western leaders, risked paralysing revolutionary movements in the third world. Mao had in 1957 already put the fear of nuclear war into perspective: ‘If the worst came to the worst and half of humanity died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist. In a number of years there would be 2.7 billion people again [and] more.’

Did he really believe that, or merely want the imperialists to think he would not flinch if it came to a trial of strength? It doesn’t matter today. Especially as Russia and China, also reconciled on this point, have worked so hard to ensure that the idea of ‘the whole world becoming socialist’ has not advanced much in recent years.

Serge Halimi is president and editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique.


South Asia Citizens Wire
Buzz for secularism, on the dangers of fundamentalism(s), on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. Newsletter of South Asia Citizens Web:

    #### _\_  ________
    ##=-[.].]| \      \
    #(    _\ |  |------|
     #   __| |  ||||||||
      \  _/  |  ||||||||
   .--'--'-. |  | ____ |
  / __      `|__|[o__o]|
_(____nm_______ /____\____ 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.

More information about the SACW mailing list