Wednesday, December 31, 2008

50 Years of Cuban Revolution

The two legendary figures of Fidel Castro’s rebel army – Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos was in charge of the two guerrilla columns that attacked the city of Santa Clara, Cuba's third largest city and the capital of Las Villas province. It was the last important bastion of Batista’s defensive strategy where his army had consolidated a huge force to resist the rebels. The rebel army’s plan looked suicidal as it had just 300 men and were comparatively ill equipped in arms and supplies. In contrast, the Batista army had the strength of 3500 soldiers and ten tanks. Also an armored train was on its way from Havana carrying another 400 well-armed soldiers, weapons, ammunition and supplies. Che had chalked out a three tire battle strategy: to keep the Batista troops confined, to stop the armored train and to involve the generally supportive locals to assist the rebel force. All his plans worked perfectly. The locals restricted the movements of Batista army's tanks and armored vehicles by creating barricades all over the city; the supply train was attacked and seized after a part of the railroad track were removed with tractors by the rebels. With considerable firepower at their disposal the rebel army was able to triumph over the already dispirited defenders to surrender. The battle of Santa Clara was the conclusive battle in the Cuban revolution. Less than 12 hours after the fall of Santa Clara, Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba. The day was 31 December 1958, exactly 50 years ago from today when Fidel and his comrades created history.

50 years after the revolution, under half a century of scrupulous blockade and economic warfare, Cuba has attained many considerable achievements to be proud about. It has completely eradicated illiteracy, an unparalleled achievement amongst the countries of Latin America, or even the US. The Cuban government provides free education to all its children up to University level. The country has the highest school retention rate, highest number of teachers per capita and the lowest number of students per classroom among the whole world.

Cuba has also successfully created an incredible ‘cradle to the grave’ national healthcare system that is completely free for its citizens. The infant mortality rate of Cuba is also the lowest in Latin America. Compared with the conditions of 1959, when average life expectancy was just 58 years, figures according to World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that life expectancy in today’s Cuba is 78 years – a remarkable increase of 20 years. Its healthcare system has completely eradicated many infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria and dengue from the country. Today, Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita than any other country in the world. It is also training 76,000 foreign medical students free of charge and is exporting health care facilities to other poor countries. To provide first-rate health care facilities to the underprivileged people all over the third world, in 2008 Cuba has sent 36,500 doctors to eighty one third world nations. It has a flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and world-wide exports the world’s best hepatitis B vaccine.

Today, the Cuban people enjoy cent-percent social security covers and the advantages of institutional equality provided by their government. Cuban society is absolutely free from racism and exploitation and has accomplished remarkable success on women empowerment. Cuban women constitute 40 percent of Cubans labor force, 66 percent of the country’s technical and scientific workforce and 36 percent National Assembly Members. It has also attained considerable success in the sporting arena. Today, Cuba has the world’s best environmental record, having increased its forest coverage by over 50 percent, drastically reducing electricity used for lighting, and implementing a revolution in organic agriculture. The World Wildlife Fund has described Cuba as the only environmentally sustainable country in the world.

It is significant to note that all of Cuba’s major social achievements are principally acquired through social solidarity – by the active involvement of the organized Cuban mass under a brilliant and inspiring leadership of Fidel Castro. When a tiny Latin American country provides free health care and education to its people, endows them with full social security and liberates them from the bondage of social injustices – the country and its ideals are certainly dangerous! And when the same country inspires other deprived nations to revolt against imperialists and neo-liberal crooks, stimulates them to contravene the US superpower – it must be considered as a grave threat!

Cuba was the first Latin America country to achieve liberty from incessant imperialist domination through an armed revolt. It was a brilliantly original revolution; passionately inspiring to ignite waves of revolutionary struggles across the globe. It is also an extraordinary revolution in connotation with the fact that none of its leaders were steadfast communists but young radicals with a broad, democratic and anti-imperialist vision. The origin of these radical youths was a popular movement called the 26 July movement which primarily aimed to bring social justice for the Cuban people through its struggle against the despotic and corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, an avaricious scrooge and loyal US agent. After the revolution, the ultimate decision-making power of the revolutionary government remained with the guerrilla fighters of Sierra Maestra under the leadership of the young and unorthodox revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro, Celia Sánchez and Juan Almeida. These young leaders represented the true spirit of the revolt, believed in collective struggle and ideological novelty. They did not follow any dogmatic revolutionary recipe to achieve their objective. In their early discourses, words like ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ was never even uttered by the rebel leadership. But gradually things changed when the ‘naked truths of imperialism’ started to reveal its hideous face. This revelation ultimately enforced the leadership to consciously explore the path of socialism. In April 1961, two years and four months after the victory of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro declared the rebellion as a socialist revolution. The US establishment transpired into a state of colossal dismay when Fidel confirmed that he is a Marxist-Leninist.

A commendable aspect of the Cuban revolution is Internationalism, the convenient assistance it provided to countries engaged on processes of radical transformation. Cuba had played a radical role by extending its hand of international solidarity towards the exploited and oppressed regions world over, to abolish the ‘exploitation of man by man’. The Cuban attitude of internationalism is best expressed by Che. In the speech delivered on February 1965 at the Second Economic Seminar of Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria, Che had stated:

There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country's defeat is a defeat for all of us. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future, it is an inescapable necessity. If the imperialist enemy, American or any other, develops its attack against the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries, simple logic determines the necessity of an alliance between the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. If there were no other uniting factor, the common enemy should be it. (Emphasis added)

Cuba had extended its support to the Algerian patriots in their struggle against French colonialism. In 1963, when Algeria was attacked by the Moroccan armed forces Cuba shipped a battalion of 22 tanks and several hundred troops to assist the endangered Algerian revolution. In Republic of Congo, Cuba supported the popular leader Patrice Lumumba. After CIA assassinated Lumumba, in 1965, Che Guevara led a group of more than 100 Cuban guerrillas in Congo to help the Simba movement and the Congolese rebels to fight against the US and Belgian colonialists. Cuban internationalism helped to pave way for the independence of Namibia when in 1966 Cuba extended its all-out support to SWAPO and Cuban troops, united with Angolan and Namibian forces defeated South Africa. Between 1973 and 1975, Cuban force aided Syria to guard the Golan Heights from Israeli aggression. In 1975, Cuba assisted Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in the struggle against the US backed racist South Africa in Angola. Thousands of Cuban volunteers participated in defending Angola from the attacks of South African troops. Cuba’s role in Africa is acknowledged by none other but Nelson Mandela when he had remarked that, ‘Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice’. Cubans had extended solidarity with the heroic fighters of Vietnam and fought in Bolivia. Cuba also actively helped the revolutionary organizations in Nicaragua from 1967 and trained the courageous Sandinista guerrilla force to fight the US backed reactionary Contras. When the US troops invaded Grenada in 1983, Cubans fought along with Grenadian soldiers to resist the invasion. Even today, thousands of Cubans are assisting to implement the Barrio Adentro health mission and the Robinson literacy mission in Venezuela. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia's Evo Morales or Ecuador's Rafael Correa would have faced greater difficulty implementing the popular political empowerment projects in their respected countries without the towering inspiration of the Cuban revolution and the vital support of the Cuban leadership. Without Cuba, it is difficult to imagine the rise of the self-respecting Latin American voices, those who are challenging the hegemony of the US imperialism in their unique way today.

The right wing mainstream media was always pejorative about Fidel and his men from the days they took power. In fact it was this propaganda apparatus which the reactionary forces used as their main bludgeon against Cuba for the last 50 years. Instead of looking at the miraculous survival of Cuba under violent economic, military and counter-revolutionary attacks for almost half a century, instead of looking at the triumphs it has achieved with very limited resources, the mainstream media meticulously continues to supply trite observations, spurious news and analysis. Millions of dollars are spend in the name of academic research to prove why the Cuban revolution is a failure. Today when they proclaim that the island is near to bankruptcy, they do not mention about the illegal economic embargo imposed upon Cuba in context. When they mention about the embargo, it is only to mock Fidel and his team for artfully using the embargo pretext to cover-up their 50 years of misdeeds. The ‘most influential’ English-language weekly The Economist embraces high hope that once Barack Obama is in office, he will lift the embargo. Well, this tremendous hope is not because The Economist is a friend of the Cuban people. It is also not because lifting the unlawful economic blockade will provide a mouthful of air to the suffocating Cuban economy. It is because, ‘Cubans would know they had nobody except their rulers to blame for their plight.’ The mainstream media is showing signs of restlessness since Fidel has stepped down and handed over the charge to Raul.

The luminous Cuban revolution has brought sovereignty and dignity to the people of Cuba by ending decades of imperialist exploitation and oppression. From an informal US colony the revolution transformed Cuba into a confident and dignified nation. The Cuban revolution has also in many ways transformed Latin America from the subjugated backyard of the US into a distinguished voice of its own. The US authorities greatly wanted and still want to destroy Cuba because it has become a symbol for others to follow. For 50 long years, Cubans have deeply respected and heroically defended their revolution with admirable courage and dignity from the illegal embargo, forced isolation, aggressive counter-revolutionary military attacks, sabotages, assassination attempts and repeated threats of the US establishment and its lethal foreign policy. Noam Chomsky in a recent interview has accredited Cuba as ‘a symbol of courageous resistance’.

Despite of unbelievable odds, Cuba’s splendid achievements helped to keep a bright beacon of hope alive in the hearts of millions of people all around the globe. Cuba has shown us how to subsist in a better and humane way which is founded on the principals of peace, social justice and human rights. Today, Cuba is the inspiration to millions who keep on believing that an alternative society, a better world is certainly possible.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

Fidel Castro & Che Guevara image courtesy: Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Camilo Cienfuegos image courtesy:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It’s Pakistan, Stupid!

The perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks have left ubiquitous Pakistani fingerprints, just like in the other recent incidents of dire terror attacks around the globe. Though groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in 2002 by the military dictator Pervez Musharraf to gratify America, the ban actually had little or no effect as the same group changed its name and reappeared as Jama’at-ud-Da’wah to operate openly. Under growing international pressure, even from the allies like China and Iran, the Pakistan authority after the initial hesitance started to react in their trademark way. First was the blatant denial about the presence of extremists in Pakistan and the deceitful demand for valid proof to act against the architects of Mumbai atrocity. Then followed the continuous double-speak and bellicose rhetoric. And finally, in the pretext of ‘threatening statements of the Indian leadership’, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan has started creating a war panic to divert the attention from the real issue, its responsibility to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. The Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has assured the Pakistani people that his force is ready to mount an ‘equal response within minutes’ if faced with any cross border surgical strike and informed President Asif Ali Zardari that his ‘men are ready to (make a) sacrifice for their country’. The Taliban also responded in a rather extraordinary way. The chief of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud has announced to offer the service of hundreds of its suicide bombers and thousand of its armed militants to fight alongside the Pakistan army if Indian imposed a war. When asked why he wants to support the army that has launched a major assault on them, Mehsud replied, “…the army was acting otherwise (in the past). But now it would fight for the protection and survival of the country, which is why we will support them.” Mehsud has a shrewd strategy. Tension build-up between India and Pakistan suits him and his friends the best as it will shift the attention of the four army divisions of Pakistani force deployed in the western border with Afghanistan towards the Eastern border. Unmistakably, there is a significant number of rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment who also desires the same.

In this whole sequence of events, the role of America is particularly typical. It is trying to pacify India and Pakistan both by playing a balancing act from the sidelines. American diplomats, state department and army officials are paying ritual visits to both the countries and pretending to be genuinely concerned to resolve the crisis. But America’s concerns are fictitious. By counseling the burglar to break the house and simultaneously warning the house-keeper to remain alert, America is playing its well-known game of deceit.

Who is responsible for the steady upsurge of terrorism in Pakistan over the years? Is it the Pakistani military, the ISI or the al-Qaida? What are the underlying reasons that the democratically elected government of Pakistan is visibly shaky to act against their home grown terrorists? A look back at recent history will reveal the truth.

In early eighties, the CIA under Ronald Reagan administration formed a three-part intelligence alliance including Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services to fund, prepare and arm the Afghan and Arab mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The cold war era rivalry had always pushed the two superpowers for a head-on confrontation in almost every place of the globe. The CIA provided the logistics and technological support, the Saudi provided the money and the Pakistanis worked as field agents to run the war on the front lines. Billions of dollars of military aid was secretly pumped in to fund this anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Though America never played a direct role on the front lines and instead used the Pakistani agents for the dirty job, it has significantly influenced to build the extensive terrorist bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan soil to train thousands of radical Islamic guerrilla fighters. The Pakistani Army and its military-intelligence outfit Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, started to nurture and train the most backward elements in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which had subsequently unleashed a series of violent fidayeen attacks against the Soviet backed Nazibulla government. The remote tribal areas of Pakistan abutting Afghanistan, particularly the North and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were virtually turned into a haven of cross-border incursions where thousand of Afghan and Pakistani unemployed youths with militants of foreign origin were encouraged to join the ‘holy war’.

The FATA region comprises seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies. It is a remote, extremely backward and poor province filled with complexity and ethnicity. It is considered to be one of the most difficult terrains in the globe and runs along the Afghanistan border known as the Durand line. This border was drawn as part of an agreement signed by the then ruler of Afghanistan and the British colonial administrators on 12 November 1893 to demarcate Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan. FATA is inhabited by 3.50 million Pashtun tribesmen. 90 percent of them live below the poverty line.

The ethnic Pashtun tribes of the FATA region never accepted the demarcation of the Durand line as it had artificially segregated them from the Afghan mainland. It is a volatile boundary which continues to be the mainstay of permanent trouble in the region. From both sides of the unguarded border extremists and militants, drug smugglers and arm dealers freely cross the boundary. The Pakistan government has always kept a blind eye about this infiltration as historically its authority over this region is limited. Today, it has turned into a jumble for different jihadi groups comprising Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, Chechens, al-Qaeda and the Uzbek militants those who are taking refuge and getting trained for terror activities in the training camps. A terrible reign of lawlessness with easy availability of sophisticated weaponry and explosives has transformed FATA into a state within a state. Compared to 102 high schools, there are many as three hundred madrasas functioning in this region. Funded by Saudi money, these networks of madrasas are the humble institutions to brainwash the Muslim youths with lethal jihadi ideology. The flourishing madrasa network also reveals the growing power of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.

From the days of the Afghanistan war, the Pakistan military and the ISI allowed the Afghan Taliban to spread deep into this region, particularly in North and South Waziristan province. Soon after the withdrawal of Soviet army in 1989, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan interpreted the ‘achievement’ in Afghanistan as a model that could be extended against India - the traditional enemy. Apart from supporting the Taliban, other anti-India notorious militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were provided a legitimized domestic base and were protected as assets or a reserve force to accomplish the dear to heart agenda of Pakistani hawks – to propping up cross-border proxy war in Indian Kashmir. Money and arms from clandestine donors flowed in consistently and the region emerged as the main refuge and supply-route for Taliban insurgents on both sides of the border. Gradually, their activities are spilling out beyond the tribal areas of FATA to the NWFP areas and elsewhere.

America has seldom hesitated to boaster its military might to ‘resolve’ problems. Therefore after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world knew that an American military invasion is imminent. Where and how it will commence was the only question. Pentagon finally pinpointed Afghanistan as the prime cradle of global terrorism from its conviction that al-Qaeda members including Osama bin Laden has supposedly taken refuge here. America’s bombing campaign of Afghanistan, officially called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ started in 2001 with the aim to destroy the terrorism source. The attacks distorted the al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in Afghanistan but could hardly solve the problem of global terrorism. The Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership crossed the border into Pakistan, regrouped in the FATA region and facilitated the rapidly growing global anti-state terror network comprising about 14 definable anti-state elements. To seek out and eliminate the shadowy foe, American and the NATO forces continued their highly unpopular and superficial ‘war on terror’ in FATA through air strikes and covert operations but avoided using ground forces to fight the jihadis as it has little or no potential for ground combat.

America was never able to establish any support base in FATA due to its inability to have any direct contact or communication with the local people and their leaders. Bombing a weak country is easy but seeking out terrorists from remote mountainous terrains is a tough and dangerous job. It is also a war against an idea where the solution cannot be achieved through military means alone. The destruction of Afghanistan and the successive atrocities in Iraq has mostly isolated America from the hearts and minds of Muslims. The countless killing in Afghanistan and Iraq has definitely inspired a generation of Muslims to take up arms. Illegal and unjustified invasion against a secular and unfriendly to fundamentalist country like Iraq has further helped to strengthen the hands of Taliban outfits. The Abu Ghraib revelation of American military brutality has also helped to fortify enough sympathy to Islamic fundamentalism.

Therefore, to ‘win’ this complex war that skeptics say can never be won, America needed Pakistan’s help and cooperation. But Pakistan is finding extreme difficulty to motivate its soldiers to fight their own people. The army and ISI also do not like to estrange their ‘special force’ and is reluctant to assail the Afghan Taliban. Yet it cannot refuse helping America. The newly elected democratic government is therefore in a dilemma it is struggling hard to deal with. It wants to change its already squat image but do not have the strength to direct its army or the ISI to behave accordingly. Also in reality, only parts of the country are under its genuine control. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles and hugely depending on American money and benevolence for a massive debt write-off and other economic supports. America is already paying them around 80 million dollars a month to endorse the cost of Pakistani troop deployment in FATA.

Obviously, this dangerous game has its spill-over effects. The persistent Taliban incursions have led to the collapse of civilian and tribal administration in FATA. The sanctuary of terrorism along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier has gradually grown into a citadel of wider jihadi movement and the chickens have started coming home to roost. America and its allies including Pakistan are now being victimized by the Frankenstein it has once created. Today in Pakistan, these ‘stateless actors’ are festered like a malignant tumor that might have reached an incurable advance stage.

The recent Mumbai terror attacks should be analyzed in this perspective. Even under tremendous pressure from the people and media, so far the reaction of the Indian government is praiseworthy. Instead of jumping into the jingoistic bandwagon, it has shown restrain and is acting with prudence. India has considerable reasons to do so. Though weak, the candlelight of democracy that is lit in Pakistan today bears significance. If this sole light is blown off, the vast haunting darkness will be intimidating not only for the future of the Indian subcontinent but also for the entire globe.

To understanding the complex subject from a Pakistani perspective, the blogger is indebted to Irfan Husain. Interested readers can read him here at Dawn.

Image courtesy:,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mumbai attacks and the 'conspicuous' Indian elite

The recent terror attacks on Mumbai are occupying a central space in the collective mindscape of India. Everyday there are human stories and revelations oozing out from the devastating wound it has created. Newer information is emerging about the callousness of the security setup, about the hidden rivalry between the security agencies. The investigative reporters are busy to unearth unknown brave hearts of those terrible days. There are also the latest exposures of cosmetic faces on TV talk shows - those who are suddenly looking awakened from their habitual socio-political aloofness. There are plentiful of peace marches, candlelight vigils, endless panel discussions and token gestures of unity. These developments are beautiful to see and sweet to hear. But day by day, this indiscreet clamor with risen fists on front of the Taj Mahal hotel and blabbermouth socialites crying hoarse in front of TV cameras – swearing to protest against hideous politicians, delivering precious advice to stop paying taxes and instigating for an American style robust response are getting harder to digest.

Suddenly the elites have become very much conscious about the importance of good politics and started spitting venom against ugly politicians. Suddenly they have metamorphosed and became socially committed. Suddenly they are presenting patriotic overtures and turned into war-mongers. A significant qualitative change indeed! Their mounting conscience is like the froth of cappuccino. After some time it will settle down.

Who are this elite citizenry declaring war against politicians today? These are the same snobs who always felt apathetic to politics and cherished to consider that politics is the refuge for the third-rate Homo sapiens - the rascals and scoundrels. These are the same lot who are always silent during any atrocious communal riot, during the butchery of Muslims in Gujarat, Christians in Orissa or Dalits in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These are the same people who gladly contribute to fund hate. These are the same people who exhibit their deep love for America but love to hate China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba. These are the same people who are skeptical about Mayavati and scornful about Lalu Prasad Yadav; bitterly critical about mainstream communists but sympathetic to the brutal Maoists. These are the same people who seldom votes but wishes to maintain their larger influence over the democratic system which they are bitterly denouncing today. These are the same people who are now parroting the stupid concept: to replace the politicians by CEOs to run the country.

But is it really the rage or a raucous cry out of deep fear? It is indeed the first time Indian elites are stunned to find themselves in a situation where their lives are just as insecure as the common masses; their symbols of wealth and power look insecure. This is the first time they saw that their ‘own’ people - the creamy layer of the society can also be robotically targeted and brutally killed.

Why did the proactive reporters could not find a single brave heart among the elites trapped inside the hotels? Why are the brave hearts found only among the ordinary? What are the responses of the rescued elite hostages of Taj, Oberoi and Trident about their saviors - the ordinary hotel staff, the ordinary kitchen worker and the ordinary maintenance worker who took terrorist bullets trying to save and shield them? For a while they will emotionally talk about the sacrifice, eulogize them for their bravery and soon will stop thinking about them.

The media bosses, our conscience keepers, have devoted too much space to illustrate this rage of our phony elites. The electronic media has taken the center stage in this aspect. Serious looking anchors with theatrically modulated voice attempted to accelerate public emotion by adding ingredients of detestation against politics into their recipe. Jingoism was carefully promoted (mainly through readers response section) as the ideal balm to the wound. All politicians are brought under a homogeneous group and mercilessly bashed. Placards with thrilling slogans are shown again and again to demonstrate the public anger. Continuous narratives supported with titillating images were conveyed ceaselessly to help create mass hysteria. In the pretext of voicing on behalf of the people, the Indian media issued a clear verdict to the worried nation: in the wake of the Mumbai attack, politicians have lost whatever credibility they might have had before.

Do the Indian media want the public to believe that their activism will mould the politicians towards morality and decency? Not at all. The media only wanted to grab an opportunity to propagate their social worthiness. In situations, idiocy rules the day where anything and everything can be lambasted in the pretext of patriotism. To acquire public applause, the electronic media therefore chose the dangerous path of cheap sensationalism and in a trendy manner ran the Mumbai attacks on TV like a reality show, continuously flashing unconfirmed breaking news. All news channels were principally acting alike – only the upper polish differed from channel to channel since the targeted audience was different. The class bias of their selective reporting was also blatant in nature. By barely covering the massacre on the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station where more than 50 people were killed or the government run GT hospital, all efforts were focused on the ‘dramatic’ events of the symbolic Taj and the Oberoi and Trident hotels.

Lot of the elites now talks about unity. Unity is a sweet word but does not necessarily suggest a solution. Who knows it better than our elites that unity is warm and endearing when it is selective?

During the eventful days, a section of the media has cleverly pressed another ploy - by labeling the Mumbai attacks as India's 9/11. The reason is simple. They were trying to subtly promote the idea of aping the American way to demonstrate military aggression against Pakistan. The Indian public was asked to restrict their vision like a blinkered horse and consider: why the United States has never suffered a major attack on its soil since 9/11. Because they were tough. Because they do not fear to call a spade a spade. The Indian Government was advised with a warning: be tough like America; learn from them how to respond. Otherwise India will continue to bleed forever. A prominent section of the elitist Indians expressed a similar view. Fools rush in where fools have been before.

America’s post 9/11 ‘tough’ and costly response (the estimated cost of the Iraq war is $ 3 trillion, about three times India's GDP) has turned into multifaceted disasters: it has ruined Afghanistan and Iraq, destabilized the north-west Frontier province of Pakistan and made that territory much more generous to terrorists, killed millions including innocent civilians. Nearly 5000 soldiers of American military are also killed and 100,000 of them has returned home wounded and injured, suffering from serious mental disorders. It has acted as a stimulus for Islamic terror groups and aggravated Islamic fundamentalism not only in the Muslim world but also in countries where the words were unfamiliar before America’s ‘tough’ response occurred. It has substantially increased insecurity and fuelled far more terrorism activities worldwide.

On July 16, 2008, the American government has issued a ‘Worldwide Caution’ that says, “Current information suggests that Al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings.” The magnification of worldwide terror attacks is the direct result of America’s ‘War on Terror’ which has gravely angered the Arab and Muslim world. It was not difficult to make out why the terrorists had targeted American and British passport holders in Mumbai hotels and attacked Nariman House, the epicenter of the Jewish community in Mumbai. Israel is a key ally of America and is notorious for their imperious methods of tackling Islamic terrorism.

In the first reaction post after the Mumbai attacks, this blogger had spoken about the need to restrain emotional outbursts and urged to convert the gruesome incidence into a watershed – by looking within to dispose of the enduring vices of this country. There is now an emerging possibility that the incidence could be turned into a watershed of a different kind. The proactive interference of America is showing disturbing signs that the big brother might seize this opportunity and eventually coerce India into their strategic partnership in this subcontinent. They have earlier done the same with Pakistan and the consequences are out in the open. Now it could be India’s turn.

Image courtesy:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The miracle of Diego Maradona

It was the 1986 World Cup quarter-final match in Mexico where the two rival teams Argentina and England met for the first time since the 1982 Falklands war. There was a sizzling pre-match temperament amongst the Argentine team members and according to the Argentine defender José Luis Brown, “Everybody in that squad knew of someone who had been sent to fight for the country and each one of us had our own feelings”. The Argentine captain Diego Maradona scored two memorable goals in the match and permanently imprinted this famous encounter and himself into the folklore of world football. The first one was ‘scored’ in the 50th minute of the match by a punch of his hand - it was the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal. If the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser had properly noticed the action, he would have certainly penalized Maradona and disqualified the goal as a handball. Maradona however, symbolically attributed this goal as a sweet revenge to Argentina's Falklands war defeat in the hand of the British force and remained impenitent about the goal for twenty long years only to coyly admit later that the goal was “A little of the hand of God, and a little of the head of Maradona”. Also in his bestselling memoir Yo Soy El Diego he had confirmed that, “Now, yes, I can say what I could not say before….What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego!”

The second goal was the one cited today as the greatest goal in the history of World Cup and also the ‘Goal of the Century’. This is a goal worth describing. Six minutes after the infamous first, Maradona possessed the ball near the right sidelines in his own half. After gaining control of the ball in the fraction of a second, he masterfully dribbles out half of the England team with eleven virtuoso touches of his foot (he had a miraculous left foot and rarely touched the ball with his right) that apparently made the world-class English players look haplessly naïve. He finally dribbled past the English goalkeeper Peter Shilton to calmly roll the ball into the net. This marvel of 10 seconds was undoubtedly a piece of sheer magic. Gary Lineker, the English striker later recalled that he “…just stood there on the halfway line and thought, ‘Wow’. That could have meant we were out of the World Cup, but it was just breathtaking.” Argentina defeated England 2-1 to enter the semi-final. (See Chris Hunt: The Hand Of God)

In many ways, the 1986 FIFA World Cup will be everlastingly connected with Maradona’s name. Never in the history of the World Cup since 1930 did a single player seen to absolutely dominate the entire tournament as the Argentine jersey number 10 did it in 1986. Maradona was the captain of a relatively weak side, energetically played every Argentine matches in that tournament with a supreme presence on the ground, was the powerhouse behind the game strategy of his side and was singly responsible for converting Argentina from a good team to a great team. Following the quarter-final match against England he netted two more brilliant goals in the semi-final against Belgium. In the final match against the reasonably strong West German side, the German players were by and large successful to pin down Maradona in the entire match by double-marking him except once when Maradona made-up enough space for him to send a lethally accurate through pass to Jorge Burruchaga to score the match winning goal. Argentina lifted the cup beating Germany 3-2. Indisputably, Maradona won the Golden Ball award as the tournament's best player. It is widely accepted today that any participating team on that particular World Cup could have been the champion if they had Maradona on their side.

The legend of Maradona is the universal story of a genius with real hardship behind, a career dotted with momentous highs and lows. Diego Armando Maradona grew up in the working-class barrio of Villa Fiorito located on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. The place was poor and troubled; inhabited by paupers, drug addicts, drug peddlers, thieves and stray dogs. Describing the place Maradona once said that “If it was possible to eat, people ate. And if it wasn't, they didn't.” Though Maradona’s family was poor, their condition was not as terrible as some of the other neighboring families as his factory worker father had a job. He spent his childhood in a shack, shared a room with seven brothers and sisters. While rainfall, their beds had to be moved to keep away from the ceiling leakages and regularly walked down the street to fetch water from a community tap for the family’s daily use. (See Matt Dickinson: Maradona, a slum and the birth of a legend)

It is on the same potholed streets of Villa Fiorito where the gifted Maradona started kicking the football along with the local urchins. Lucky for him, his genius was spotted in his early age of 11 while he was playing in the local club Estrella Roja. From then onwards it was a straight rags-to-riches story. His professional career started ten days before his sixteenth birthday in 1976 with the Buenos Aires club Argentinos Juniors, where he played for the next three years and later joined the famous Boca Juniors. At the age of 16 he was selected in the Argentine national team as the youngest player ever. His first World Cup tournament was in 1982 and he continued to play in three consecutive World Cups. He captained his country in 1986 and 1990, winning the first and losing the second in the finals to West Germany. He played his last World Cup in 1994. After the second match against Nigeria he was tested positive for ephedrine doping and expelled from rest of the tournament. He was subsequently banned by a FIFA disciplinary panel from playing nationally or internationally for the next 15 months and was fined $15,400. The whole world was shell shocked by this startling news. The media which always had a love-hate relationship with him was particularly harsh. In response to the ongoing Maradona bashing by the press, Nicolas Michael in a letter to the sports editor of The New York Times wrote:

“Diego Maradona messed up. Diego Maradona is far from perfect. All of these facts have been covered in substantial detail and with much emphasis again and again. There is one other fact that also needs to be covered again and again, with the same amount of emphasis. Diego Maradona was not just a very good soccer player. Diego Maradona was the best player to play this game, with perhaps one exception, that of the great Brazilian player Pele.”

Maradona also had a phenomenal club career. After his initial stint with Argentinos Juniors, from 1981-84 he played for Boca Juniors and FC Barcelona and from 1984-92 for SSC Napoli. It is at Napoli were his professional career reached its zenith and also elevated the Italy club to the most successful era of its history. His Napoli years ended disgracefully in 1992 after he served a 15-month ban for failing a drug test.

It is widely believed that Maradona got addicted to cocaine in the mid 80s during his Barcelona days due to his failure to cope with the pressures of success and his roller-coaster lifestyle. His addiction aggravated while he was with Napoli. In 1991, Maradona was tested positive for cocaine use after an Italian league match and was suspended from professional football for 15 month. Few months later he was arrested for possessing half-kg of cocaine and was slapped with another suspension for 14 months. After the 1994 World Cup disaster, Maradona gradually retired from professional football. Following his retirement, his health condition worsened. He became overweight and suffered increasingly from obesity. In 2000, Maradona went to Cuba for treating his heart problems and cocaine addiction. Wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and a huge Che tattoo on his right arm he commented after arriving at Havana that he ‘chose Cuba because of the dignity of its people.’ He had also donated the Cuban royalties of his memoir to ‘the Cuban people and Fidel’. Maradona returned to Argentina in 2001 after staying for nearly two years in Cuba only to go back again in 2004, after a major heart attack that almost took his life. However, in 2007 he announced that he was finally been able to quit drug and drinking. In 2008, Maradona was handed over the job to coach Argentina’s national team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

In the recent years, Maradona has openly displayed his leftist sympathies and anti-imperialist stand. He became a friend of Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, supported Hugo Chávez, declared Che Guevara as his hero and grew more and more anti-American. He posed for the famous photograph wearing a T-shirt labeled ‘STOP BUSH’ and called George Bush ‘human garbage’. In 2007, he stated that he ‘hate everything that comes from the United States’.

During his recent visit at Kolkata, the public was seen to turn almost crazy. Was it due to this leftist anti-American stand of Maradona? Certainly not. What was then the reason? Why the crowd was seen to patiently wait for the entire night at the airport to have a glimpse of him? Was it just because he was a living legend? Why many of their eyes got moistened with joy when they finally saw him? Why were they so emotionally aroused when they touched the famous ‘Hand of God’? A recent article by Nirmal Shekar in The Hindu has incisively described it:

"For a good part of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, no single sportsperson captured the imagination of a greater number of sportslovers all over the world than did Maradona. From the dusty maidans of Kolkata to the village greens of middle England, from the shanty towns of sub-Saharan Africa to the football-crazy Italian cities of Naples and Milan, his was the most readily recognisable name in sport, his was the face that stirred emotions like no other, his were the feet that at once brought back memories of transcendental magic."

Watching Maradona on the field was like looking at a delicate piece of oriental artwork. Every bit and piece of his game was decorated with glittering artistry. Diego Armando Maradona was the artist par excellence who could create extraordinary moments of splendor on the football ground at ease. His outstanding technical mastery with the ball, his marvelous sense of timing, his ability to find out amazing openings between the huddle of players in a very limited space, his high-speed short and long sprints, his incredible dribbling power, his ability to take deadly free-kicks and reverse-cross pass shot behind the leg, his amiable skill of holding the ball for a longer time amid fierce challenges from opponent defenders and intelligently releasing sudden but accurate passes en route for his fellow players to finish – all this has made him the greatest creator of football magic in recent times and an extremely delightful player to watch.

It is heartbreaking to see that most of India hardly recognizes Maradona. It is also a pity that today’s kids do not feel the similar goose bumps their fathers and grandfathers still experience while recalling this miraculous footballer in their minds. But they cannot be blamed for it. They have not seen Maradona playing the 1986 World Cup.

Photo courtesy: Natacha Pisarenko - AP

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The days after the Mumbai terror attack

For the time being the Mumbai mayhem is over. All ten terrorists except one are killed. The one arrested terrorist is now under interrogation. Indian security agencies are trying to squeeze out maximum information from him to figure out the greater plot. Political heads has started rolling. The central and state Home Ministers has resigned. Maharashtra Chief Minister was forced to put down his papers. With international support, the Indian government is trying to get tougher on Pakistan. The Pakistan government after agreeing to send the ISI chief to India later backtracked fearing the strong repercussion it can create in their own country. Mumbai is slowly getting normal. Politicians after a three day lull are back on their tracks. Full volume allegations and blame games has resurfaced. Too much of bombastic talks on the TV have started to show clear signs of dullness. Debates are turning ugly. Even the best TV anchors, worn out after days of continuous showbiz are facing a hard time to break free the clichés. The whole nation is utterly disturbed and bemused. People came out on the streets in large numbers and demonstrating their rage against the political leadership. In due course the disaster dusts will settle and the real questions will start coming out.

The calculation, precision and audacity of the Mumbai attackers have stunned even the most competent security forces of the world. The nature of the attack was so unprecedented that unless a tip-off is acquired from the source, it was almost impossible to prevent an attack of such magnitude. A terrorist insurgency can be counteracted only through building a network of informants in places from where the terrorists originate and operate. The navy chief has accepted that the Mumbai attack is clearly a systemic failure of India’s intelligence and security agencies. This devastating intelligence failure has quite obviously raised unpleasant questions in front of the government. The now revealed discord between the intelligence and security agencies are alarming. From one side there are allegations about the lack of actionable intelligence. From the other side accuses are hurled that intelligence was passed on timely but was not acted upon. It is also amazing to discover the bungling way in which these agencies are maintained. In addition, the sheer callousness of India’s political leadership is not something the people of this country should ever forgive. Even after nearly 200 civilians and 20 security men have died, the stupid manner in which key ministers has commented and acted is an obvious indicator to this callousness. The UPA government is bearing the maximum brunt and has turned into a sitting duck which they truly deserve but the track record of their loud mouthed opponent group NDA was in no way better. The war on terrorism in India has become a petty political subject in recent years and all major political parties are equally responsible for worsening it.

The Mumbai attacks have dropped a ripe apple in the hands of the RSS-BJP combine. The BJP which was initially hesitant supporting the Malegaon blast accused came out openly to hysterically support the arrested sadhvi and sadhu after the RSS-VHP sponsored Panipath meet on 16 November. BJP’s change of position was clearly read out at Panipath by the RSS which has comprehended that their deceptive campaign against Islamic terrorism might fall flat otherwise. Now, they no longer need to do any rhetorical trickery to score their points. They can notify loudly and adequately that their relentless campaign against the ‘soft on terror’ approaches of the UPA government and Islamic terrorism was hundred percent right. Approaching the imminent general elections they will certainly seize the opportunity through an explicit campaign that the country immediately needs to get rid of the Congress led UPA government with an indication that the solution of terrorism in India lies on the doorsteps of the country’s Muslims populace. With lesser efforts now the RSS-BJP combine could be successful in arousing Islamophobia by exploiting public anxiety. As the nation’s attention has shifted, the Hindutva lobby will also find it easier to suppress public mood on the Hindu terror groups and possibly derail the Malegaon blast investigation.

The problem of terrorism becomes virtually irresoluble with an attitude of being tough on terror without being responsive about its causes or vice-versa. Both the issues are concurrent and must be dealt together. The problem with the two major political forces in India is that each of them had chosen to address one aspect of this two sided problem and neglected the other. Their political compulsions are apparent. But it is high time for the Indian political class to escalate their consciousness on the fact that gaining political mileage by encouraging disparity is ultimately an illusion. Political parties are deeply infected by this terrible disease which it preventing them to unite even when the nation is under severe crisis. This is the vital reason why curbing terrorism has become an unfeasible task in India.

The physiological impact of the Mumbai attack will be far-fetched. It is in fact started showing disturbing signals that could have a devastating effect on the future of an increasingly polarized nation. The heinous attack has stimulated an initial fear psychosis and helplessness among the public which has now been transformed into widespread anger. The anger among the urban Indian upper and middle classes are flaring-up in multifaceted directions. Though at present the politicians are the main targets, it will not be difficult for them to recover their positions soon. But this anger is also having the dangerous undercurrents of deep rooted sectarianism. Without much effort or time, demagogic elements in the society can divert this anger towards familiar targets of class, caste and creed. Anger intensifies emotion and if not restrained can obstruct reasoning and tend towards paranoia. The babble on the TV screens about a robust response could easily get misdirected towards a quasi-chauvinistic leaning.

Many celebrity civilian and media experts are referring to the ‘American response to 9/11’ as a solution. Some of them have even turned into warmongers with bombastic proposals like ‘attack Pakistan’, ‘carpet bomb the Lashkar-e-Taiba camps’ and ‘gun down the jihadi leaders’. Either intentionally or foolishly, these armchair experts tend to forget the fact that in vengeance to the horrific events of 9/11, America had invaded countries like Afghanistan (in October 2001) and Iraq (in March 2003) situated about ten thousand kilometers away from their international border. Due to the huge distance between the countries, the impact of these attacks has never brought any direct retaliatory effect on American soil. Also the military might of America cannot be compared with the weaker countries it had invaded. If India attacks neighboring Pakistan, will the impact be similar? Even if one ignores the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear powered country armed with long distance nuclear missiles, will India really be able to teach Pakistan a fitting lesson without receiving an equivalent lesson in response? Will there not be any civilian casualties? What will India really achieve by raiding Pakistan? Will the country completely get immunized from terrorism? These are pertinent questions that might not have happy answers.

After 9/11, the George W. Bush regime brought on the vague phrase ‘war on terror’ and instigated military invasion on targeted countries. It apparently seems that the main objective of America’s military campaign has succeeded because after 9/11 the country did not face any other terror strikes. However, skeptics believe that the actual purpose of the war on terrorism was to establish the American hegemony and acquire control over Middle East oil. But there are also ample examples and studies that has shown that the enormous destruction and casualties of civilian life caused by the attacks (causalities in Afghanistan is estimated between 1,300 and 49,600 and in Iraq it is between 62,570 to 1,124,000) has been counterproductive in many ways. It has consolidated anti-American sentiments world over, radicalized disillusioned Islamic youths, encouraged them to take refuge under the terrorism fold and increased the possibility of terror attacks against America and its allies. This is the basis why the Mumbai terrorists were after foreigners, looking for British or American passport holders when they have invaded the hotels. In 2006, The New York Times had reported that “American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” In the same report it was also said that the Iraq war has worsened the overall terrorism problem by fueling radicalism. Till now India was keeping a safe diplomatic distance from this ‘war on terror’ agenda. After the Mumbai attacks, there is a dangerous possibility of India falling into the infamous loop. There is a near hand possibility that India might line up as a close strategic and military partner in the region and serve the foreign policy objectives of Washington. Do not forget – the Indo-US nuclear deal is operational now. (See the post India and the Nuclear Deal.)

Therefore, in response to today’s inflammatory circumstances a sensible approach is expected from the Indian government, the Indian media and the people. As several military experts have explained, military action will be the last option for the Indian government in dealing with Pakistan. The democratically elected new Pakistani government has not yet shown any convincing sign about their ability to control the dreaded ISI and the rogue elements of their military establishment. A paradigm shift from the attitudes of previous regimes towards anti-India terrorist groups who are comfortably operating from their soil is also not visible. Yet, the first option of the Indian government is to undertake a tough diplomatic position in cohesion with the global community and force the Pakistan counterpart to act in co-operation. Today Pakistan is also suffering from similar terrorism threats. Pushing themselves in the verge of a full fledged war will therefore not be a pragmatic and desirable option for either side.

Image courtesy: ABC News