War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

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Democratization in the Former Islamic Majority Soviet Republics

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

The Case of Kazakhstan

In looking for a unique subject to write on, your author came upon some of his notes of a discussion with an ethnic Kazakh (or the citizen of the newly independent Kazakhstan).  The “new” nation is now the ninth largest country in the world in geographical area, but only the sixty-second in population because of the largess of its open spaces.  In this essay the name of the source, place and date of the interview will be kept anonymous because of the possible political ramifications of my interviewee’s comments.

The newly independent land in Central Asia, separated from its Islamic roots for several centuries, had been violently Russified (made in the image of the Slavs in Saint Petersburg), and secularized over a period of their captivity under the Russian Empire, and later under the policy of secularization after the Communist Revolution in the European Center of the U.S.SR.  It has only been recently (1991) that they have gained independence from Moscow, and have been able to connect with the remainder of the Islamic World, and for this reason Islam, tinged with the Soviet secularism currently found in Central Asia, is developing its unique Muslim modernism of its own.

Kazakhstan, because of Josef Stalin’s policy of internal deportation within the (former) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, is an ethnically diverse Republic (where many of its contemporary citizens are descended from unwilling immigrants…much like Afro-Americans in the Western Hemisphere).  Therefore, religious freedom is granted to all.  Yet, Kazakh Muslims dominate the social landscape.  As in all the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose organization of the (now) independent (post-) Soviet (Colonial) States, the societal environment has been in a flux into the first decade of this new century.  In fact, Altmay, the then capital of the Kazakh Republic was the last to declare its sovereignty of the non-Russian territories (to do so far).  Many of these Central Asian and Eurasian States have often held on to the past U.S.S.R. political paths with its bureaucracy, and their methodologies still dominate although with the younger generation pushing for Western-style economic “liberalization” and (democratic political reforms are gaining interest).  The question that was being asked in this lunchtime meeting was is Kazakhstan the next Central Asian Republic to go down the path toward Western ways?

The dominant feeling amongst the Kazakhstanis was that political reorganization was absolutely necessary, but most other States in the region discouraged such restructuring because of the threat to the financial and procedural status quo.  Within Kazakhstan itself, the Russian period has exited with an enormous embedded corruption.  One of the hefty problems is the remaining clannishness within the culture – especially the ruling elite.  The strongest clan actors – whether blood relations or not — are those who owe their allegiance to the Executive and the Bureaucrats – especially in the new center, Astana.  These political actors make most of the States’s decision without any larger (more democratic) consultation.  “The Presidency is controversial,” since it supports an economic “liberalization” that is Neo-Ricardian in form, and has gained the imprimatur of most of the international organizations — who matter – as the way to stabilize their economy.  Although Kazasthan is struggling to rediscover its Islamic roots, its Civil Society has not protested its strategy of the development corrupt of a new un-Islamic State-controlled neo-Capitalism.  Kazakhstan’s government has opted for a similar market economy as most of the post-Marxist States of the old Soviet Union, and has not incorporated any Islamic financial procedures at all.  Both the Capitalist and Leninist theories have to be adjusted to fit into the Muslim monetary tradition.  “Our President is the founder of [the modern Kazakhi] ” predatory financing!  The current Administration is leading the country into a systemic process of privatization.

One of the post-Communist Republic’s largest challenges is that of political secession.  The ruler is an oligarch (one of a group of wealthy decision makers with the State itself).  There is a great possibility that his eldest daughter will succeed him into the State Executive’s office in time.  Officials and businessmen will grab “shares” of the Commonwealth while the bureaucracy, in classic totalitarian fashion has been employed to develop policy; and, thus, to maintain the rapacious State; and, consequently, to assist the elites to control and oppress, for the President is concerned over any feasible democratic opposition that may arise.  It is largely his peers within the Oligarchy who supports the status quo.  Yet contenders are arising, and Kazakhstan is nominally a two-party State, but, still, the laws have been crafted to discourage challengers.  In fact, two of the leaders of the “loyal” opposition have been persecuted as enemies of the State.

In this emergent nation, free again to dig deeply into its Muslimness, Islam itself is being discouraged through its Socialist past.

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Exploring China’s Wild West

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The Jakarta Globe

silk road hotan There is a smell of goats, fresh bread and melons. A cacophony of bleating animals rises, mixed with conversations full of hard-edged Turkic gutturals. A small boy clambers deftly onto the back of an unbroken, barrel-bellied pony, and reining it back sharply he somehow stays in place as it gallops wildly over the stony ground. Horse-trading elders with beards and skull caps look on with approval and begin to count wads of tattered money. Above everything arches a vast Central Asian sky.

I am in China, but here, at the Sunday livestock bazaar on the outskirts of Kashgar, an ancient city in the southwest corner of Xinjiang, I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Xinjiang is China’s Wild West, a state of deserts and mountains peopled by Muslim Uighurs, and leaning more to Bokhara than Beijing. It has long had a troubled relationship with the rest of the country, slipping in and out of effective Chinese control as imperial power waxed and waned over the centuries. Today the tensions continue. In July, protests by Uighurs in Urumqi, the state capital, turned violent and a government crackdown followed. But unlike in neighboring Tibet, the government has kept Xinjiang open to tourists. When I arrive in Kashgar on a long-distance train, rolling though vineyards and pomegranate orchards, there has been a state-wide telecommunications shutdown for over four months and army trucks bearing antiseparatist slogans were rolling down the streets. But I am free to go wherever I like, and the first place I head is Kashgar’s famous Sunday Market.

Kashgar stands astride the ancient Silk Road, the much-mythologized trade route that once linked China with Europe. From here trails led east along the fringes of the desert, and west over mountain passes. For centuries, people, religions and ideas passed along the caravan routes. The Uighurs’ Turkic ancestors dropped out of the mountains in the sixth century. Before them, Buddhism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity had traveled west. A few centuries later, Islam arrived.

Today a hint of this old romance survives — the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan lie within 150 kilometers of Kashgar, and trade goes on in weekly markets across the region. In the Kashgar Sunday Market I see carpets, fruits and embroidered cloth, mixed in with everyday metals and plastics. Women in sparkling headscarves jostle with old men in embroidered pillbox hats.

But the Chinese government is determinedly dragging Xinjiang into the mainstream. The market has now been corralled into a modern complex, and beyond it new high-rises tower over the remnants of the old mud-walled city. In recent years, swathes of the Uighur old town have been bulldozed, and immigration from other parts of China has been encouraged. These moves — and the dominance of immigrant Han Chinese in the job market — have only increased tensions. English-speaking Uighurs I meet on my journey whisper their disquiet in hushed, paranoid tones. A man at the Sunday Market explains the resentment at the destruction of old Kashgar.

“There is no privacy in a Chinese apartment,” he says. “Our traditional houses are built around a courtyard so we all live together, but with privacy. We don’t want to live in apartments.”

Looking for something a little more authentic, I head to the livestock bazaar. It is a glorious chaos of goats, donkeys, horses and sheep and haggling men in fabulous hats. I am hoping to see a camel or two — real evidence that I am on the Silk Road — but to my disappointment there are none. I console myself with a plate of greasy kebabs and plot my onward journey.

From Kashgar I head east. Human habitation in Xinjiang has long been squeezed into the narrow margin between the mountains and the desert. A string of oases runs along what was once the southern branch of the Silk Road. My first stop is Yarkand — a place once as fabled as Samarkand or Xanadu. During Xinjiang’s periods of independence from Chinese rule, Yarkand was usually the capital city. It was also the terminus of skeleton-strewn caravan trails over the mountains from India.

Today, it is a backwater. A Uighur old town of mud alleyways remains, and a dusty graveyard of royal tombs studded with the faded flags of mystic Sufi cults sprawls behind a medieval mosque with a vine-shaded courtyard. A modern Chinese town of arrow-straight boulevards dominates, but away to the south I can pick out the faint white line of the Kun Lun mountains, the back wall of the entire Himalayan range.

From the next oasis, Karghilik, I take a taxi into those hills along a road that leads, eventually, to Tibet. An army check-point by the chilly banks of the Tiznaf River is as far as I can go, but I scramble up a steep brown slope to take in the view. A mass of brown mountains, ribbed and scored with dark shadow, spreads east and west. Behind them, rising in a glittering white line, is the backbone of the Kun Lun. This was the barrier that Silk Road traders from India once had to cross en route to Kashgar, Yarkand, and my own final destination — Hotan.

The road to Hotan blazes across the stony desert, the mountains floating to the south. The vast void that surrounds it makes arrival in Hotan a strange experience, for here, at the very limit of China’s vastness, is another large, modern town. As a Uighur heartland, the Chinese government has been particularly keen to integrate Hotan with the rest of the country. Roads from the north now plough straight across the Taklamakan Desert, and from next year a railway line will link it to Kashgar. A Uighur man I meet at a kebab stall hisses, “When the railway is ready we will be finished — Hotan will be all Chinese.”

But something remains here: a week has passed and it is time for Hotan’s own Sunday Market. Nothing has been regimented here; the bazaar sprawls over a vast area, filling all the lanes and alleys of the old quarter with a mass of color and commerce. There are sections given over to cloth and carpets, to the jade mined from the banks of nearby rivers, to animals and even tractors. Donkey carts clatter through the crowds, the drivers calling out “ Bosh! Bosh! ” (“Coming through!”). When I am tired of wandering I feast on laghman (Uighur noodles) and slices of fresh watermelon.

And as I leave the market I spot something — what I had hoped to see in Kashgar. A boy is leading a pair of shaggy, twin-humped Bactrian camels through the crowd. They are enormous beasts and they pass through the chaos unperturbed and disappear among the trucks. I stare after them as they go, now sure, despite the political tensions and the heavy-handed Chinese modernization, that I am in Central Asia, and on the Silk Road.

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Gaza from California

February 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Very often the media takes up a story as “sexy,” and then drops it from their “radar” when the media judges it to be no longer to be of active interest for their target audience, even though a good deal of the public are still wondering what has happened to the issue.  Well, much has happened to Gaza since the Jewish blitzkrieg through Gaza ended last month, and I, as a journalist, intend to keep going back as a venomous Gila Monster in the American Southwest and Northern Mexican hangs onto his attacker with his venomous fangs to keep my reader’s consciousness focused on the subject and its aftermath as they should be.

About the most momentous event since the truce (which seems near failure) since it has been broken several times by the Israeli army, are the Israeli elections and the right-wing Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked to forming a government.  He has pledged to wipe out Gaza, and to expand Settlements on the West Bank.  On the other hand, the U.N. (United Nations) has been asked by Tehran to expel Tel Aviv from the General Assembly!

Few relief supplies have been permitted through the borders by either the Muslim-dominated Egypt or the Jewish State, also, to relieve the haggard denizens of the Strip.  During the middle of February a fact-finding delegation from the British Parliament were beleaguered by Israeli military thugs.  The chair of the delegation was quoted “It was a bit weird to be hassled by another country when entering a [sovereign] nation.”  A similar event occurred when an American Congressional deputation visited post-War Gaza.

About a month and one-half ago, a program on Gaza was presented off campus in this city.  My criticism of the agenda was that it lacked the (academic) rigors of the campus assembly on the following day that I reported as “Gaza under Siege” printed here not many weeks ago. I must denounce the knee-jerk radicalism of Berkeley’s hoi po loi, and their Americo-centric prejudices.  The two Muslim Arabs were quite perceptive plus one American who has worked extensively in the area, and I shall consider their quotes quite carefully.  The others I shall gloss over.

The organizer of the event called this an “emergency” meeting.  “An emergency is a situation that demands immediate action!”  Americans are stuck in an illusion.  ”We are demanding that the slaughter in Gaza to stop,” but we in the American public are only accumulating misconceptions!

I gave an account of the Palestinian-American Professor Hatem Bazian of U.C. (University of California at) Berkeley comments in my previously mentioned article.  The Gaza crisis began considerably before December 28th last.  The prior Truce was violated by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) on November 4th, 2008.

Israeli and/or U.S. State Department press releases dominate the American dialogue on what was the old Mandate of Palestine.  There is a new campaign for the Middle East promoted by the United States, Israel and their “franchises” (the “moderate” Arab States) to corner the region’s resources.  The District of Columbia is enabling a classic “divide and conquer” between the Shia and Sunnis as a mechanism to force the Arabs, Persians and Central Asian Turks to sell the West their oil at a reasonable price.

“Israel acts as an advance ‘aircraft carrier’ for the U.S.A.,” but, at the same time, Israel may possess different objectives from North America.

Curiously, though, Tel Aviv’ myth of strategic invincibility was severely damaged by their defeat over Galilee by Hezbollah (and Iran technology’s) missiles in their 2004 War.

Unfortunately, the major Israeli Parties all appealed strongly to the (illegal) Settler’s vote.  On this side of the Atlantic, “Obama isn’t going to fight against Israel or AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee].”  (An AmerIndian speaker, Tony Gonzalez, called it “Obama Romanization”) which has swept the young and the idealistic off their feet.

The minor local politician (former Afro-American Oakland City Councilman and the son of a past Mayor), Wilson Riles, Jr., said “We have to listen to what Hamas is saying,” but he equates a Fourth World country to the problems of the U.S.!  “We got to move against…structures in this community.”  At least, “We have to commit to Palestine…,” and, further “…We must [do our] research…” of course.  Further, there was a Black minister who reacted with the correct moral outrage, “I feel the pain and outrage from what has happened!” Yet it was his pain from afar and not the outrage of the victims themselves.  He does talk of the accusations of “anti-Semitism” for those who defend the Palestinian people.  He declared that we must not cringe from the charge:  “Silence is unthinkable…” Ultimately, though he goes back to the accountability of the American government (for which they unarguably possess and hold responsibility).

Denis Bernstein a supposed “investigative reporter” for the local Pacifica radio outlet (KPFA) felt “It is time to end the savagery to these people!”  Agreed, but “It [also] is time for a one State solution!” [Sic!]

Larry Everest who seemed to come from an “Old Left” perspective, and was of (anti-Zionist Jewish) heritage was, also, in favor of a one-State solution, but this would be where the Palestinians would dominate in a way similar to M.K. Gandhi’s envisioning on the “Jewish Problem” published in a seventy-year old issue of his Harijan, and republished on these pages quite some time ago,  “Israel is a Settler Colonial State…a garrison State for [U.S.] Imperialism!”  I think this is an over simplification of agency, and absolves Tel Aviv in its lack of morality where the U.S. is more than the enabler par excellence that makes it possible for the hand of the doer to enact the deed.  The truth is that the “evil” can be stopped in either in D.C. or in Judah itself.  Bazian pointed out previously above in this piece that the policies of the two oppressor allies do diverge. 

Much of the rhetoric that night was polemic, and was direct more against the American State than the Modern Israeli nation who decided to devour Gaza for their objectives of a greater Israel.  Our guilt lies in giving them the weapons et al., and that has to stop!

Paul Larudee, whose project to relieve the Gazans by sea was written up by me twice in these pages, stated that “Palestine is made to suffer because they are not Jews.” 

He notes how the State of Israel has expanded the definition of Jewishness to allow more potential Settlers within as citizens; therefore, he sarcastically, avers “Why not make the Palestinians Jews!”  I am not sure of the taste of his suggestion, but Palestine is, also, a geographical “neighborhood,” and all who live within should be considered Palestinian (again, back to the “Mahatma’s” 1938 essay), and that would include the Jews as in the pre-Partition Ottoman Province. 

He believes racism is the core of the problem.  I would argue that it is not racism since they belong to the same race, but Sectarianism.

Hisham Ahmed is a blind Palestinian-American Professor at a small (San Francisco) Bay Area Roman Catholic College who was raised in a refugee camp located near Jerusalem.

“Israel had unleashed a savage attack upon Gaza… [and the Gazans] had to stand up!  Before the onslaught a Cabinet Minister from the Knesset remarked “…We have to start a holocaust on Gaza!”  This is a “…act of sadism!”  As my readers know, and Ahmed re-emphasizes, Gaza has been under a total blockade for years.  Although Dr. Hisham is a critic of Hamas, he attests that they had upheld their part of the prior treaty.  The West bank is hell, too.  They wish to “…destroy our will to resist,” but their PR (Public Relations; i.e., propaganda) has failed!  “…Israel is ugly…Egypt is sitting on a volcano…” which can only lead to lead to international instability!  Before proceeding to sanctions, he suggests a legal campaign from granting visa to Israeli officials from entering the United States.  “The fall of Palestine is real,” but independence is near!

Laudree, Baziam and Ahmed were excellent, and the evening was well worth while, but many of the other speakers lacked a deep understanding of the dire Palestinian predicament.  As Americans on the extreme Left, Palestine was a cause célèbre for them to help produce paradigm shift of power within the United States.  Anyone who is aware of the history of Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century is well familiar that a few of the radical movements within the Metropolis (the Imperial homeland) were ultimately unsupportive of the Colonials themselves for fear of damaging their domestic privileges.  Few of our mainstream American speakers understood Middle Eastern realities!

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