By Nitin Pai
Donald Trump is under heavy criticism for ordering a withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Whatever you might say about the manner in which he made and announced his decisions, on Afghanistan at least, he is not wrong.
If you look at it from an American perspective, it’s hard to explain why US troops are still in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is done, al-Qaeda has been nearly decimated, and an Afghan government the US midwifed has been in power for several years now. The government controls only around 60 per cent of the country and the Taliban have been growing stronger over the past couple of years. The cultivation and export of narcotics has also been growing.
No one, however, can credibly argue that if the US continues to remain in the country, the security situation will improve in the next three, five or ten years.After 17 years, hundreds of lives lost, over a trillion dollars already spent and an annual budget of hundreds of billions of dollars, the question is whether the cost of staying is worth the benefits. It is reasonable for a thoughtful American to conclude that now is a better time to pull troops out of Afghanistan than later.
The consequences of a US withdrawal are mainly of concern to the Afghan people and their neighbours in the region, including us in India. Whatever success ZalmayKhalilzad, the US interlocutor, manages to achieve, it is now quite likely that the country will see a period of political instability, turmoil and violence. We should hope that the country avoids a long and bloody civil war. We should expect, though, that regional warlords will hold greater sway over the territories under their control, with various kinds of relationships with a putative central power in Kabul.
Some of these warlords will be strategic proxies of external powers like Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and yes, India. Others will make opportunistic deals in pursuit of their interests. It would be foolish to try and predict exactly who will come out on top in this jostling. How long it will last, and what cost the Afghan people will have to pay remains to be seen.
The Taliban are already claiming that they have won, and defeated a second superpower. They are entitled to such comforting tales that they can tell themselves and the world. It is by no means certain that they will be able to recapture power and full control of the Afghan state. Even if they manage that feat, it is unlikely that their government will secure international recognition from anyone other than Pakistan. And even Pakistan might make an official recognition contingent on the Taliban accepting the legitimacy of the Durand Line, which no government in Kabul has ever countenanced before. The best the Taliban can hope for is an accommodation within a future ruling dispensation..
As for Pakistan, despite some triumphalist bravado from the likes of its foreign minister, it has a new problem on its hands. The country cannot escape the spillover effects of an increasingly violent political climate across its western borders. It is hard to foresee a dispensation in Kabul that will not have a testy relationship with Islamabad; the Taliban might well have received shelter on Pakistani soil, but once in power, they will quickly make the distinction between Pakistani interests and their own.
On a number of issues, from the Durand line, to the manner in which the Pakistani intelligence manipulated the Taliban leadership, to relationships among the Pashtun tribes along their common frontier, to support for Islamist militant groups, there are important differences between the Taliban and the Pakistani establishment. Once the US leaves, these differences will come to the fore.
What if the Taliban retake Kabul, set aside their differences with the Pakistanis, and permit the latter to push Jihadi militant groups into Afghan territory? What if they, in turn, create safe havens and training camps for international terrorists targeting India, the United States and other countries?
This is certainly a risk. However, it is unlikely that we will see a return of the bad old days of the 1990s because the international environment is dramatically different.
Few countries have any tolerance for Islamist groups and are deeply suspicious of Pakistani links with any of them. The West has been stung by 9/11 and other attacks in Europe. The Russians are wary of their Caucasian and Central Asian underbelly. The Chinese, busy building concentration camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, are unlikely to be sympathetic to cries of international Jihad. The Gulf Arabs have also had their share of trouble with radicalism and have a different approach now. The Pakistani establishment will have to weigh the costs to itself carefully before signing off on cross-border terrorism plans.
Does that mean we can relax? Certainly not. The risk might be low, but it’s there. This means it will have to be managed: it calls for greater surveillance, better intelligence, deeper bilateral and multilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism and acquisition of capacity to eliminate the threats at all stages. This is what the United States will do post withdrawal, and this is what India too will need to do.
To this end, New Delhi must revive or create a new ‘Northern Alliance’ and provide it with financial and political backing. We’ve overlooked this in the past, but we can neutralise geographic barriers by reaching the Afghan people directly by setting up a television channel broadcasting to the country in Pashto, Dari and Hindi-Urdu. India hosts the families of many prominent Afghans, and we should continue to be a safe haven for them. Once the civil war ends, Afghanistan will need professionals and educated elite: India can help nurture them by opening up educational opportunities for them. We could even permit Afghan universities to host campuses in India so that the next generation of Afghans are not denied education because of politics.
It’s not only the Taliban that “have the time”. We have it too. India’s interests are to remain on the side of the Afghan people. We can pursue them even after the last American leaves.
Polarisation and the politics of hatred
By Anup Sinha
With the parliamentary elections coming up, slanging matches among political parties have become more intense and strident. The quality of discussions amongst politicians and media houses, especially the electronic media, is alarmingly low and petty. Social media has become an instrument of hate and falsehood. Despite this, many believe that the inherent strength of the system in the world’s most populous democracy is strong, and its resilience remarkable. Is that strength and resilience being systematically sapped? Are the crippling of liberal democracy and the crisis of free-market capitalism worldwide phenomena?
To seek an answer to these questions, it is necessary to appreciate that both parliamentary democracy and free-market capitalism are based on myths developed during the last couple of centuries. The myths rest on the assumptions that all human beings are rational. In politics the voter knows best, and in economics the consumer is always right. There is another underlying assumption: decision-makers possess all relevant information, at least all that pertains to the specific decision in question. Hence, empirical research for facts and figures becomes critically important in the quest for knowledge and information. As far as the creation of this knowledge and information is concerned, there is another underlying assumption that informs liberal education. The assumption is that the researcher has the capability to think freely and independently. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that almost all human decisions are reactions to emotions and feelings, with past experience and peer pressure playing significant roles. Similarly, in education, we seldom think freely. We are taught what to think and we think along the lines of other researchers. Knowledge building has become an industry in itself.
As the world becomes more complex, individual knowledge becomes more and more restricted. Yet, we have a perception that we know more and more about the world. The fact is that we think we know more because we share the knowledge that other people create. Indeed, our ability to think in groups and share that knowledge has made the human species the master of the universe. Yet we do not know much at all as an individual. We use a car, but most of us do not know how to make a car and how exactly it runs, although we know how to use it. Even a worker in a car factory does not know everything about manufacturing automobiles. While the collective knowledge is very large and impressive, individual information and understanding are extremely limited. Psychologists refer to this as the ‘illusion of knowledge’. We never actually test the car we drive for its safety because we do not know how to do it. We drive because we depend on others to tell us that it is safe to do so.
Most of us, most of the time, base our decisions and opinions on what others like us think. We are hard-wired to think in groups. Liberalism, nationalism, communism, fascism and organised religions are examples of what is referred to by some historians as ‘groupthink’. We believe in what makes us comfortable, and the comfort is constantly reinforced by ‘people like us’ and continuous newsfeeds. We listen to what we like. These systems of beliefs do not encourage us to challenge and ask searching questions. So when a television anchor screams down an Opposition spokesperson, it is meant to be a signal that those who oppose are like vermin, to be treated like toxic waste. Hence there is no scope for serious debate and exchange of ideas and thoughts.
This state of affairs has political implications too. Politicians, when they are in power, feel that they can and ought to govern and rectify everything under their control, from institutions and laws to people’s behaviour and beliefs. It is like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times who goes berserk with a spanner in his hand. He sees the whole world as nuts and bolts to be tightened. The political master has even less knowledge about the world than an average individual. The average individual can at least try to acquire more knowledge and information, might have the time to think and reflect, make mistakes and learn from them. The political boss suffers from two distinct disadvantages. The first is that he has no time to reflect, learn and think. He has to depend on others in ways more fundamental than those of ordinary citizens. The second disadvantage is that people close to him will necessarily have agendas of their own, or think that they must feed the master the information he would like to hear. Hence accurate information becomes less and less available. Sometimes scholars think that data and reports written by experts can cut through belief systems and groupthink and help reshape opinions. It seldom happens though. There will be counter data and contrarian reports. Our collective thoughts will not be affected; rather our initial beliefs will be reinforced by assertions made by people like us. Any contrarian view is considered a lie. Hence people with extremely inadequate knowledge, or false information, take policy decisions. A politician with absolutely no knowledge of biology may take decisions regarding research on stem cells, or a policy-maker with a distorted knowledge of climate science may take a decision on carbon emissions.
With increasing collective knowledge and growing individual ignorance, political systems depend on consolidating power and increasing the sphere of a particular system of beliefs. Persuasion is not common. What is common is either playing on an individual’s fears and anxieties or the application of coercive threats. Little wonder then that democracies in the 21st century have become more and more polarised along political beliefs based on fear and hatred. The quality of political discourse has degenerated. Democratic systems have thrown up narcissistic leaders with dictatorial traits. Free-market capitalism has thrown up extreme inequalities and joblessness.
Liberal education regularly rewards those who learn to build on the existing stock of knowledge rather than learning to question and challenge existing knowledge.
India is not free from this global trend towards authoritarianism, divisive fears, pathetic subservience and violent coercion. We are overwhelmed by loads of information which we cannot process. So we keep to our comfort zone. It is defined by a set of ideas that identify the root of all our troubles. Inadequacies of material well-being and economic security are considered less important than the welfare of cows. Any disagreement with the political establishment is considered anti-national. Dishonesty and lies are commonplace in the public domain as never before. Ordinary citizens have begun to fear one another. News is a commodity produced to be traded in the political market. Voting is a violent exercise in terror and manipulation. Liberal democracy, if not dead, is struck by paralysis. The economy is controlled by the rich corporations. Diversity has given way to divisiveness. While the present is changing, our history is being rewritten, and the future is being crafted by ignorant people who know not they know not. New myths have begun to replace the old ones. In the past, new myths were scripted by quirks and fools full of sound and fury. The present is no exception. The party lines are drawn, each with its own lullaby of lies.
A step towards unity
By Seema Mustafa
The die has been cast. Top leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party. Telugu Desam and the Congress party met to form what can be called the nucleus of opposition unity for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, putting an end to rumours and wishful thinking.
“We have met to formalise a common manifesto program, and will be meeting now regularly to ensure this happens,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told The Citizen. He said that it was incorrect to say that AAP had not been interested in a larger unity. “We have met many times before, with the Congress leaders and others present as well, yesterday Rahulji came and we have all taken a decision to get this off the ground,” he said.
Kejriwal held a press conference asking “what kind of democracy is this” in reference to the targeting of his officials and party leaders by the central government over the past years. The Chief Minister has faced extremely rough weather from the Lt Governor’s started with Najeeb Jung and despite that managed to take some ground changing measures in the social sectors of health and education that remain his government’s priority, besides bringing relief to the poorer sections of Delhi with revised electricity and power tariffs benefiting the low income groups.
Kejriwal, who had faced still opposition from the Congress during elections in Delhi, appears more than willing to bury the hatchet. He said that all the opposition parties were serious about defeating the BJP and the meeting of some leaders had resolved to take the process forward. The next opposition meeting is on February 26-27 that more leaders are expected to attend. Interestingly so far the Uttar Pradesh parties have stayed away, with Bahujan Samaj party chief Mayawati visibly angry with the Congress party. Samajwadi party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who has decided to ignore his father’s support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is more kindly disposed towards the Congress but is waiting for the Priyanka Gandhi dust to settle and see what finally emerges.
However, it is clear that despite the states where the political parties in the fray are exploring options the larger decision to fight on a common platform with a common minimum agenda has been taken. And in the process, AAP is likely to ally with the Congress for the Lok Sabha seats in Delhi; Janata Dal-S and the Congress will fight unitedly in Karnataka; DMK will be with the Congress in Tamil Nadu; National Conference will partner with the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir; Rashtriya Janata Dal will continue with the Congress in Bihar; Trinamool Congress and the Congress are likely to form an alliance for West Bengal, the Nationalist Congress Party is clear about its alliance with the Congress party in Maharashtra; Telugu Desams Chandrababu Naidu who was the first to reach out will strengthen an alliance in Andhra Pradesh.
Amidst all this UP remains uncertain, but the picture is expected to clear as soon as the elections are announced. But the exploratory meetings held by Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia is clearly to assess winning chances in seats, and perhaps if an alliance does happen with the BSP-SP identify the seats the Congress could fight. The alliance in UP could remain at a seat understanding position, so as to woo the upper caste voter away from the BJP fold. But all this is very much in the nature of political speculation with Mayawati for one, not buying into it, and keeping up her attack on the Congress party.
State units of the political parties used to combating each other in elections—such as in West Bengal and UP —are putting up a stiff resistance as the Congress and the regional parties here have not worked together. However, as in Karnataka, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to step in and assuage emotions if the talks now progress, and the political top brass are able to agree on a common minimum agenda. This, as the opposition leaders said, will be the first and crucial stepping stone to a poll alliance.
The next step will be to thrash out whether the alliance should be pre- or post- poll. Mamata Banerjee emerged from the meeting insisting on the need for a pre-poll alliance. Interestingly, this came a day after the media had insisted that the Congress and Left were talking for an election alliance in West Bengal, totally non-winning combination. Other political parties have to agree to it. Kejriwal was cautious saying that the common program could signify that. Others still silent, although NCP is reportedly keen to go into the Lok Sabha elections as a united entity.
The one political party almost certain to stay out of all alliance, BJP or Congress led, is the Biju Janata Dal with chief minister Naveen Patnaik not responding to any initiatives by either. In Tamil Nadu the DMK has already declared Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister, while talks are on between the BJP and AIADMK for an alliance.
The Congress has upped the ante- by taking its Congress Working Committee meeting to Ahmedabad, regarded still as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf. Taking a leaf from Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee’s book its Puducherry Chief Minister has been on all night dharna outside Raj Bhawan demanding the recall of Lt Governor Kiran Bedi. All in all eventful days for an energised Opposition.
KHATAMBAND – The Art of intricately carved ceilings
By Dar Javed
Walking in the maze of narrow lanes and by-lanes into Old Srinagar called shaheri-khass, meandering through its exposed brick and wooden structures, often shouting for some care and attention in silence. These old embellishments adorning the dwellings and monuments with carved wood facades, intricatepinjra on their exteriors, beautiful lines of khatambandh on their ceilings, telling of a time …of a beautiful bridge man has made with history ….mesmerizing!
Going back to the roots of the craft, its name Khatam-bandh means Polygons combining or stacking together with the help of wooden beadings .It is an art of making ceiling by putting together walnut or deodar wood pieces into geometrical patterns. the uniqueness of this craft is that when the process of making is complete it acquires a unique and beautiful geometrical pattern ,most of the process is done by hand hence it indeed is a painstaking work .About its origin in Kashmir some say This beautiful art was brought to Kashmir in 1541 by Mirza Hyder Tugluq in Mughal times, some believe that this art was brought by Islamic Mystic and saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) who visited Kashmir in 14th century along with his followers that also included Khatamband artists from Iran. These artisans passed on this art to local Kashmiris.
Over centuries, the art of khatamband is one of the best forms of artistic talent of Kashmiris. In order to preserve this beautiful art, it was awarded Geographical indication (GI) certificate in 2011 ,Journal No. 41 and certificate No.164 …symbolizing their exclusively in international market
Since its arrival to Kashmir, khatamband art like other arts has also witnessed many ups and downs due to the turbulent times ,be it nineties(90’s) or the continuous prevailing situations ,however it took a bad hit in Nineties. But now it is again in great demand.
Earlier Khatamband used to be the domain of shrines mosques, palaces, royal houses, or houseboats .however now due to the surge in income every other person (Middle and upper middle class) want it for their houses .Khatamband ceilings is now preferred everywhere. According the latest survey conducted in 2012, the total turnover from this sector is Rs 36 crore
There are more than 160 khatamband designs, but not all designs are reproduced as those require very high skills. As per a research by noted designer Sandeep Sangaru with craft development institute Srinagar, there are about 500-700 khatamband artisans in Srinagar. They work in groups of 10- 15 under a master craftsman. As the craft incorporate different geometric shapes the work is very repetitive and is made use machines ,like electric motors and electric saws, this reduces the time consumption,besides providing a compact flawless geometrical shapes .Raw material used is procured locally .it is supplied by JK Forest Deptt. In regular intervals as per availability.
Patterns and Designs:
Some famous designs are : BeetDar ,Mouje Lehar, Has Pohal ,Dawazdha Girid, Chengis Kani, Chaar Baksh ,Hastubal, Pohal Muraba, Muraba Badam,….etc.
Plight of Artisans
Kashmir for centuries has been associated with rich art and culture but for decades has been arrested in a steep decline of this legacy. The artists associated with handicraft are poorest of the communities of the society. Artisans associated with the Khatamband craft are getting wages of 500 to 600 after a tedious labour of 14 hrs a day. According to the Khatamband artists union,the govt provides them firewood quota of around 3000 quintals for one year, which gets consumed in three months .Forest dept provides them firewood for Rs 425 per feet, they get the same from market at Rs 800 (Report published on Kashmir ink ) . Wood should be provided at reasonable rates for full year.
Like other crafts, Khatamband has suffered due to it being unorganized, with the additional constraints of lack of education, low capital, poor exposure to new technologies, absence of market intelligence, and poor institutional frame work. The state has to work on many fronts to revive this age old craft in Kashmir….. (To be continued).
(The writer, a postgraduate in craft designing management and entrepreneurship works as RPF at DIC central university of Kashmir. He is also working with award winning Delhi based initiative ‘Commitment to Kashmir’ on project KASHMIRIYAT.He can reached at: [email protected])