Monthly Archives: September 2004 - Page 2

Partition

In keeping with my motto of blogging yesterday’s news, I bring you a three weeks old post by the Head Heeb about the India-Pakistan partition 57 years ago.

With such a [bad] track record [post-partition], it’s inevitable that many people would question whether partition was a wise idea in either case. Randy McDonald, for instance points to a pair of recent Outlook India articles (1, 2) arguing that a united India might have evolved into a peaceful secular state. It’s impossible to tell for certain absent travel to alternate timelines, but I’m far from sure things would have worked out that way.

The reason is that the Indian-Pakistani conflict didn’t start in 1947 – it only got a new name. Violence and rivalry between Hindus and Muslims existed during the colonial and even the precolonial era; indeed, if this were not so, partition would never have become a serious option in the first place. The division of the Raj into India and Pakistan internationalized the conflict, but it was already an old one long before.

And, poor as the track record of partition may be, the history of attempts to force antagonistic peoples into a single state against their will isn’t any more successful.

[…] It’s easy to imagine dystopic scenarios in India’s case as well. Instead of being 12 percent Muslim, a unitary Indian state including Pakistan and Bangladesh would be more than 30 percent Muslim with Islamic majorities in several states and the population growth rate likely favoring the Muslims. This sort of population balance – especially a shifting one combined with historic minority nationalism – often makes majorities feel threatened and minorities restive. Any number of flash points – a major riot, a Delhi takeover of a Muslim-majority state, an electoral victory for a nationalist demagogue on either side – could spark a Muslim insurgency to add to those India is already facing in outlying areas. Partition exacted a heavy price, both in the initial blood toll and the subsequent decades of border conflict, but a unitary solution might have resulted in a colossal failed state rather than a smaller failing state and two others that more or less work. I have no more proof of this than Amitava Kumar or Ainslie Embree have of their more hopeful scenarios, but it’s arguable that, for all the tragedy it exacted, partitioning the Raj was actually the lesser evil.

And even if Kumar and Embree are right, partition is now a fait accompli.

Conrad Barwa built on Jonathan’s post with a post of his own at The Head Heeb.

[I]t is unlikely that it [two-nation theory] formed the primary aim or goal of even supposedly separatist organisations like the Muslim League, considering that the Pakistan resolution was the result of failed attempts to reach agreements on power-sharing with Congress during the Nationalist movement. I won’t rehash history here but the failure to accept the interim proposals of constitutional safeguards and the actual record of Congress provincial governments in the period of dyarchy; particularly in the United Provinces in the late 1930s indicated that as Nehru remarked ‘there lurked many a Communalist underneath a Congressman’s cloak’ and that Congress was quite cavalier in reaching an accommodation or sharing power with the Muslim League. This pattern was repeated several times right up to the Quit India Movement’s launch in 1942 and it bespoke more than anything else not Hindu Communalism but the arrogance and the blindness of Congress elites and leadership; the problem wasn’t that Congress saw itself as a Hindu movement but the nationalist movement of Hindus and Muslims and laid a claim to speak for both the Hindu and Muslim masses. Ultimately whatever one thinks of this, such an attitude led Congress to take stands which it couldn’t back up in the politics of day and given the immensely restricted electorates that operated then; any strategy that relied on mass movements might have been good when confronting a colonial occupying power but were handicaps in an arena where the primary constituency were the landed and propertied classes of the countryside and the town. It is worth remembering that these decisions were taken on the basis of extremely restricted franchises; less than 10% of the population were eligible to vote and this meant that in the case of Partition effectively 6% of Muslims took decisions that decided the fate of the other 90%. Moreover, as Patrick French has observed, most voters were quite misled as to what they were voting for, preconceptions at the time were that Punjab and Bengal, Muslim majority provinces would go to Pakistan and that Delhi, then a Muslim-dominated one demographically would do so as well. No one voted for Partition as such, which was the outcome of a decision taken by the political elites and by the administrative colonial power.

I think support for a partition among the Muslim middle class was quite late in coming, but in 1946-47 was probably more popular among than than the Muslim League leaders who might have accepted a confederation or a loose federation with minority rights.

There is also a very interesting passage that Conrad quotes from Krishna Kumar’s book “Prejudice and Pride” about school histories of the freedom struggle in Pakistani and Indian textbooks. I’ll have to add Kumar’s book to my big reading list.

One interesting aspect that Kumar and Conrad point out is that the subcontinental partition is often looked at as a last-minute thing, something that arose in the mid-1940s. However, there was a long history (of politics, landlords, religion, regionalism and more) behind it. In my opinion, Congress’s aloofness to the Muslim political elite in the late 1930s was probably one of the major reasons for partition.

Partition had a huge human cost. Anywhere from half a million to a million people died in the communal riots and more than 10 million had to leave their home for a new country. If a united India meant that those people would not die, it might have been worth it.

I have found too many Pakistanis who have taken the two-nation theory to heart and still dwell on the differences between Hindus and Muslims. At the same time, a number of Indians (Muslim, Hindu or otherwise) still think of the mistake of Partition. For a better future for South Asia, it is necessary to lokk beyond the problems and invented histories of the past.

Randy McDonald is thinking about an alternative history in which a united India got independence.

I’ll just observe that Bacha Khan, leader of what are now the Northwest Frontier Provinces of Pakistan at the time of Partition, strongly favoured his region’s continued allegiance to India and rejected Pakistan and the two-nation theory. Perhaps something was possible. Then again, the NWFP isn’t all of Pakistan.

NWFP was a strange place. It was (and still is) extremely conservative, religious and nationalist (of the Pashtun variety). At the time of partition in 1947, it was ruled by the redshirts of Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan and Frontier Gandhi). The provincial government was against joining Pakistan, but a referendum vote showed overwhelming support for Pakistan in 1947.

Women’s Bill of Rights in the Mosque

Asra Nomani has come up with an Islamic bill of rights for women in the mosque.

Women have an Islamic right to:

  • enter a mosque.
  • enter through the main door.
  • visual and auditory access to the main sanctuary, or musalla.
  • pray in the main sanctuary without being separated by a barrier.
  • address any and all members of the congregation.
  • hold leadership positions, including participation on the board of directors.
  • be full participants in all congregational activities.
  • lead and participate in meetings, study sessions, and other community activities without being separated by a barrier.
  • be greeted and addressed cordially.
  • respectful treatment and exemption from gossip and slander.

This statement should be spread in every mosque in the United States as well as far and wide around the world.

No Fly List

Flying frequently between Altanta and Newark, there was a time when I was selected for secondary screening often at the Newark airport but rarely at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. But that was in the few months after September 2001. Nowadays, I am almost never singled out for secondary screening. I didn’t mind the extra attention, but would have liked to see some evidence of its benefits to security. The news coverage of the watch lists, however, tells a different story.

The first story from Washington Post tells us about Congressman John Lewis.

For more than a year and a half, Rep. John Lewis has endured lengthy delays at the ticket counter, intense questioning by airline employees and suspicious glances by fellow passengers.

Airport security guards have combed through his luggage as he stood in front of his constituents at the Atlanta airport. An airline employee has paged him on board a flight for further questioning, he said. On at least 35 occasions, the Georgia Democrat said, he was treated like a criminal because his name, like that of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), appeared on a government terrorist watch list.

While Kennedy managed to get security officials to end his airlines hassles after three weeks of trying, Lewis had no luck for months. Then he found his own way around the security mess.

Lewis added his middle initial to his name when making his airline reservations. The computer system apparently didn’t flag tickets for “Rep. John R. Lewis,” and the hassles suddenly ended.

“The ‘R’ is the only thing that has been saving me,” Lewis said from Atlanta yesterday.

Amazing that a congressman couldn’t get off the government watch list. Being a Pakistani, that rings alarm bells for me. In Pakistan, we had somethign called an Exit Control List. People on that list were not allowed to get out of Pakistan. It usually includes names of criminals as well as politicians. Until a few years ago, when you arrived at the airport, some law enforcement guy would check your name in the list which was maintained in a notebook. That was quite a hassle.

More amazing is the fact that avoiding attention from airport security is as easy as using or not using your middle initial. Of what use is such a list?

Senator Edward Kennedy was also on the watch list.

Between March 1 and April 6, airline agents tried to block Mr. Kennedy from boarding airplanes on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist who had been barred from flying on airlines in the United States, his aides and government officials said.

Instead of acknowledging the craggy-faced, silver-haired septuagenarian as the Congressional leader whose face has flashed across the nation’s television sets for decades, the airline agents acted as if they had stumbled across a fanatic who might blow up an American airplane. Mr. Kennedy said they refused to give him his ticket.

“He said, ‘We can’t give it to you,’ ” Mr. Kennedy said, describing an encounter with an airline agent to the rapt audience. ” ‘You can’t buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘We can’t tell you.’ “

“Tried to get on a plane back to Washington,” Mr. Kennedy continued. ” ‘You can’t get on the plane.’ I went up to the desk and said, ‘I’ve been getting on this plane, you know, for 42 years. Why can’t I get on the plane?’ “

[…] In Mr. Kennedy’s case, airline supervisors ultimately overruled the ticket agents in each instance and allowed him to board the plane. But it took several weeks for the Department of Homeland Security to clear the matter up altogether, the senator’s aides said.

Just days after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called Mr. Kennedy in early April to apologize and to promise that the problems would be resolved, another airline agent tried to stop Mr. Kennedy from boarding a plane yet again. The alias used by the suspected terrorist on the watch list was Edward Kennedy, said David Smith, a spokesman for the senator.

I guess it is always good to know the Director of Homeland Security. Some things never change. Access to high officials is always useful.

It seems that “John Lewis” and “Edward Kennedy” are names or aliases terrorists have used. Let us see how common these names are. “John” is the first name of 3.271% of the male population of the US while “Edward” is that of another 0.779%. Only about 0.226% of the people in the US have the last name “Lewis” while the figure for “Kennedy” is 0.067%.

Let us assume that first and last names frequencies are independent of each other (not really true). Then the frequency of someone named “John Lewis” would be 0.03271 × 0.00226 = 0.0000739246 or 0.00739246%. This means there are probably more than 20,000 people named “John Lewis” in the US. A similar analysis for “Edward Kennedy” gives us about 1,500 people.

Were all those 20,000 John Lewis’ being searched at the airport? Is such a system even feasible?

The question regarding all these security measures is whether they help make us safe or are they just for make-believe.

Words Fail Me

I don’t have the words to blog about the atrocious killings in Beslan, Russia. These terrorists are the worst creatures on this earth.

At least 200 people have been killed during the bloody climax of a three-day hostage crisis at a school in southern Russia, health ministry officials say.

Hundreds of people were injured when explosions and shooting brought the siege to a violent end. Many of the casualties were children.

[…] Officials said 27 hostage-takers were killed and three were arrested alive.

The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas, at the scene, says three other hostage-takers are still on the run.

The armed group took over the school on Wednesday.

Russian officials have described some of the hostage-takers as mercenaries from Arab countries.

[…] Heavy gunfire and explosions began on Friday morning, and it was many hours before special forces had control of the school.

It appears the violence began as medical workers drove into the school complex in a pre-agreed trip to collect the bodies of casualties who died when the school was first seized.

A sudden explosion, which some reports suggest may have gone off accidentally, seems to have prompted hostage-takers to begin shooting indiscriminately.

Hostages panicked and tried to flee, while Russian forces stormed the school in an unplanned operation.

There were scenes of pandemonium, as terrified and half-naked children ran from the school amid intense gun battles.

More than 700 people were injured. The health ministry of North Ossetia told Interfax news agency that by the early hours of Saturday morning local time, 531 people remained in hospital – half of them children.

Ninety-two children are said to be in a critical condition.

More than 1,000 people are thought to have been in the school as parents joined their children for festivities on the first day of term.

Who else but scum of the earth would target a school for hostage-taking?

This massacre comes on top of a suicide bombing in Moscow and two plane crashes by terrorists.

There is absolutely no excuse for such evil acts. Chechen grievances against Russia are real and longstanding, but they don’t justify killing innocents adults and children.

Logic and Sanity has been covering the hostage crisis in some detail.

Where Have I Been?

I have been busy with my daughter. She’s now 23 days old and a much more interesting baby than she was earlier. She smiles, rolls over from her back to her side and recognizes both Amber and me. She’s more attached to Amber than to me, but that’s due to breastfeeding (at least that’s my excuse).

When I am not busy with Michelle, I am writing about her or uploading her pictures at her private weblog, which is powered by WordPress. If you are really interested in reading Michelle’s weblog, ask me by email.

I have upgraded this weblog to Movable Type 3.11. The user interface is much better in the new version. I especially like the ability to list comments and trackbacks. One thing still missing is any mention of which entry a trackback has pinged. The HTML is much better done in the new version both for the MT interface and what is generated for the weblog.

I have updated my templates so that you can use TypeKey to comment. However, I do not require the commenters to have a TypeKey identity.

The updated MT-Blacklist is much improved and quite amazing.

George W. Bush: Words Speak Louder Than Actions

You must watch the Bush video made by the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’s really good. It is titled “George W. Bush: Words Speak Louder Than Actions.”