What awaits the Asia-Pacific in 2018? Prospects appear, if anything, bleaker than was the case in 2017. More disorder, coming with increasing signs of a breakdown in inter and intra-state relations, is perhaps on the horizon. The Asian region is nowhere near achieving the kind of equilibrium that the Concert of Europe brought to 19th century Europe.
The region is today an area of intense geostrategic and geo-economic competition. China is the rising economic and military power in Asia today — the second most important economic power after the U.S. and having the second or third most powerful military. In seeking dominance over Asia, however, it not only has to contend with a strong military and economic U.S. presence in the region, but it also cannot afford to ignore the competition from Japan and India. In mid-2017 in Doklam, India had demonstrated that it was more than capable of standing up to China’s bullying tactics.
Much of the speculation about the extent of China’s rise is based on the common presumption that the U.S. under President Donald Trump had surrendered its global leadership role. The reluctance of the U.S. to embark on ‘new wars’, especially in Asia, does not, however, undermine its geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic pre-eminence. It is not China’s rise, but the breakdown of the institution of the state, as is evident in Afghanistan and Syria, that poses far more pressing problems for Asia.
Undoubtedly, East Asia will remain a troubled region for much of 2018, with the leadership of North Korea intent on playing increasingly dangerous games and engaging in nuclear sabre-rattling. It is unpredictable at this point whether this would lead to a major destabilisation of the region, with far-reaching consequences for Asia and the world.
The future of the rest of the Asia in 2018 is again dependent on how the strategic triangle of state relations between China, Pakistan and India plays out, as also the extent to which events in West Asia deteriorate. The situation has become more complicated as China and Pakistan have further strengthened their axis, which is inimically disposed towards India. Fragmentation of already difficult relationships does not hold out much hope for any improvement in 2018.
As it is, options for an improvement in relations in 2018 between China and India appear limited. The 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (October 2017) essentially highlighted China’s quest for global leadership and the means to achieve it, including making China’s military ‘world class’, one capable of ‘winning wars’. It contained few hints that signified a possible thaw in India-China relations.
In 2017, India-China relations had steadily deteriorated. China is clearly peeved that India refuses to participate in its Belt and Road Initiative that straddles Asia and Europe. The stand-off at Doklam in mid-2017 was possibly intended by China to be a ‘shot across India’s bow’, to send a message to India. More such situations will, in all likelihood, be repeated in 2018.
China can also be expected in 2018 to resort to other pressure tactics against India. Backing Pakistani intransigence in ‘needling’ India is certain to be one. Additionally, China can be expected to intensify its moves to displace India as the major partner in relations with many of India’s neighbours — 2017 had already seen China moving in this direction vis-à-vis Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. As it is, China has succeeded to some extent in denting India’s long-standing relationship with Russia, having established a strategic congruence with that country.
India would again need to be on its guard in 2018 as China consolidates its takeover of Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka) ports. Together with China’s establishment of a base in Djibouti (on the Horn of Africa), India could find itself at the receiving end of China’s ‘Wei-Qi tactics’.
As India grows closer to the U.S. in 2018, the India-China equation could further worsen. The most recent National Security Strategy of the U.S. refers to China as a ‘rival’, while welcoming India’s emergence as a ‘strategic and defence partner’. This is certain to ratchet up the rivalry between India and China in the Asia-Pacific region, likely to be further compounded by India’s association with the Quadrilateral (of U.S., India, Japan and Australia).
Again, 2018 holds out little prospect of an improvement in India-Pakistan relations. The last year ended with a serious ceasefire violation along the Line of Control in the Rajouri Sector, in which army men, including a Major, were killed. In 2017 there was an over 200% increase in ceasefire violations, with infiltration touching a four-year high.
This year began with a major attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) elements on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Avantipur (Pulwama district) in which five CRPF men were killed. The treatment meted out to the family of Kulbhushan Jadhav (currently incarcerated in a Pakistani prison) and the fake news that followed their visit provides an index of Pakistan’s cold, calculated and consistent hostility towards India. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) continues to remain in cold storage. Pakistan has also not refrained from persisting with its proxies like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the JeM in its war with India.
In its neighbourhood, India must be prepared during 2018 for a further deterioration of the situation in already disturbed Afghanistan. The Afghan state is in real danger of imploding, and this situation could worsen. The latest attack by Mr. Trump on Pakistan’s duplicity in dealing with terrorism could well result in Pakistan adopting a still more perverse and disruptive role here, and providing further encouragement to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
The current peace talks may well collapse as a result. Any possibility of exerting greater military pressure by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and allied forces may prove futile.
The situation in West Asia in 2018 could well turn out to be far grimmer than in 2017. West Asia is at the crossroads today. The entire region is in turmoil. Syria has almost ceased to be a state. The war here entails major powers like the U.S. and Russia, proxies for certain West Asian countries, a medley of non-state actors, apart from terrorist outfits such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda.
Intrinsic to the Syrian and West Asian imbroglio is the ongoing war within Islam featuring, at one level, intense rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, and at another, the spectre of a split down the line between the Arab and the non-Arab and the Sunni and Shiite worlds.
In addition, there are other forces aggravating an already complicated situation, viz. the war in Yemen, the disruption within the Gulf Cooperation Council, the nascent upheavals in Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the spectre of de-stabilisation that hovers over much of the region. None of these issues is likely to find resolution in 2018, and could suck in more states of the region.
If the U.S. were to follow through with its announcement to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it might well ignite new tensions across the entire Arab world. This will further inflame radical Islamist ideas and tendencies across the region, paving the way for a new round of conflict.
This year could also see a resurgence in terrorism. Both the IS and al-Qaeda seem to have acquired a new salience lately. The collapse of the so-called Islamic Caliphate and its territorial demise has hardly weakened the terror potential of the IS. In much the same manner as the Afghan jihad in 1980s and 1990s exacerbated insurgencies across parts of the world, retreating IS members returning to their homeland could provide a new narrative of terrorism in 2018. Existing cells across many parts of the world could well be re-vitalised as a result. The wave of attacks seen recently in Afghanistan can be attributed to this vanguard of retreating IS fighters.
Given such a scenario, it is difficult to be optimistic about a better 2018.
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”