Few possessors of the Koh-i-Noor have led happy lives thus goes the legend till the most sought after diamond in history landed with the House of Windsor’s but that too after surviving brutal conquests, great political upheavals and despite total ignorance of its value to most people except a few knowledgeable protagonists in history. It would not have merited even a tiny mention by way of a barely registered footnote had it not been recovered by Shah Shuja’s men by chance from a mullah who had been using it as a paper weight quite oblivious to its real worth and reputation. The gripping story of Koh-i-Noor and its possessors is masterfully woven around Kings, Queens, Princes and Generals and ordinary unsung characters who held or coveted the gem by two of the finest historians of our times, William Dalrymple and Anita Anand.
Dalrymple, having the unique distinction of an historian extraordinaire and endowed with the gift of great story telling, charts the fabled diamond’s history from ancient times tracing its origins in the Indian subcontinent through Bhagvad Puranas and other Hindu scriptures, writings and traditions. Fresh from his fabulous and riveting history of First Anglo Afghan War, Return of a King, Dalrymple journeys through turbulent and yet fascinating times describing hair-raising incidents in the shape of a highly readable book taking the reader to the point in history when the one-eyed Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s “friendly” cajoling and threats compelled the exiled Sadozai prince of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, to hand over the diamond prompting the jubilant Ranjeet to shower two hundred thousand rupees along with a jageer and sacs full of jewels and rubies as a token of his appreciation: a tiny price indeed even though the Sikh Maharaja would have thought otherwise and must have contemplated outright appropriation from a king without a throne and in captivity in Lahore’s Mubarak Haveli.
In the aftermath of the Maharaja’s death and despite turbulence, political uncertainty and instability, Kohinoor, like the kingdom of Punjab, could only be coveted enviously from a distance by the East India Company: its ownership remained firmly in Sikh hands
The one-eyed Sikh whom the French traveler Victor Jacquemont termed as a grey mouse, had that rare quality of fascinating and enthralling his European guests with his antics and seemingly irrelevant and incessant questioning, a carefully thought out smokescreen to camouflage his state of mind. The British spy/traveler Alexander Burnes, while being feted and entertained by the Maharaja, as the anecdote goes, was given the honour of seeing the diamond as he tried Ranjeet’s home-made hell brew which the Maharaja recommended to his guest as a cure for his dysentery!
Earlier Nader Shah, the Persian invader who ordered a massacre which claimed 30,000 lives had plundered and emptied Delhi of its accumulated wealth of eight generations including the peacock throne in which was still embedded the Koh-i-Noor. The dark powers of the diamond, as the common belief went, engulfed the dour and humourless Persian King in the form of his murder at the hands of his own courtiers. His chief Afghan bodyguard Ahmad Khan Abdali became the next owner of the Koh-i-Noor.
Ahmad Shah founded the Durrani dynasty and the modern state of Afghanistan and had many successful conquests to his name initially but the diamond started to have its ugly spell over the Durrani King who suffered from some kind of tumor which ate away his nose eventually leading to his miserable death. At one stage his condition became so pitiable that maggots started falling from the wound into his mouth when he ate his meals.
Anita Anand – who having recently published the life story of Princess Sophia, daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, has beautifully breathed life into the long forgotten protagonists of history in a skilful manner – charts the blood soaked history of the Punjab and its eventual annexation by the East India Company while following the fortunes of Koh-i-Noor (mountain of light), its handlers and possessors culminating in the diamond being successfully but secretly shipped out of the Punjab by the loyal and committed Lord Dalhousie to become the most prominent and envied part of the crown jewels, after having been in the possession of the Sikhs of the Punjab for thirty six years.
The scene was that of a dying, mute monarch who had been rendered incapacitated by three devastating strokes and who used to surround himself with pundits and loyal servants like Misr Beli Ram around his deathbed. Since no one could lip read or decipher the Sarkar’s gestures one hundred percent correctly, confusion surrounded what his instructions meant regarding the Kohinoor now that everyone knew that their beloved Maharaja’s time was up. While Ranjeet was giving away bags full of jewels and his other belongings in charity, the hangers on pundits were claiming the Maharaja had ordered the Kohinoor to be sent over to the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa. They maintained that the Maharaja being mindful of the fabled origins of Kohinoor had decided as a mark of respect that the ancient Sayamantaka diamond had to be transported back to its legendary place of origin, Jagannath. Misr Beli Ram, the Chief Treasurer, on the other hand, held a firm belief that the gem belonged to the Sikh state and not to any person or temple, therefore, the question of it being instructed by the Maharaja to be given as an “offering” did not arise at all.
In the aftermath of the Maharaja’s death and despite turbulence, political uncertainty and instability, Kohinoor, like the kingdom of Punjab, could only be coveted enviously from a distance by the East India Company: its ownership remained firmly in Sikh hands. So much so that even during the cataclysm and turmoil in the wake of Kharak Singh and his son Nau Nihal Singh’s tragic deaths the British never contemplated waging a full scale war with a view to annexing the Punjab. Their carefully cultivated network of agents and spies helped weaken the Kingdom from within. The Sikh Army General Tej Singh, who was awarded a vast Jageer as a mark of appreciation for his treachery by the British, was instrumental in orchestrating a defeat of his own army in the First Anglo Sikh War along the Sutlej.
The British had had enough and were emboldened by victories at Chilianwala and Multan –albeit the former being highly costly and bloody — forced one legal document after another on the child Maharaja Duleep Singh effectively giving up sovereignty over Punjab and, equally importantly, handing over the Kohinoor in return for a pension of five lakh rupees per annum. The child Maharaja who had briefly ruled the Punjab from his mother Maharani Jindan Kaur’s lap was used to wearing the diamond strapped to his dola, the bicep like his father. In his innocence the six year old would ask his Scottish foster parents, John and Lena Login, to be given the Kohinoor so that he could wear it after it was decided to separate him from his troublesome mother, the sassy and feisty daughter of kennel keeper in-charge in the service of Ranjeet Singh, Manna Singh Aulakh; youngest of Ranjeet Sigh’s seventeen wives.
The diamond and Duleep Singh were both shipped to England where news of the biggest diamond in the world was greeted by the public at large with jubilation and some form of imperial triumph. Queen Victoria was taken with the young Maharaja partly due to the fact that he had been separated from his mother and partly because he was of the same age as her own son, Bertie, the Prince of Wales. A large number of Englishmen queued up to see the Koh-i-Noor at London’s Crystal Palace, some seemed impressed, some not so sure. The Dutch company commissioned by the Buckingham Palace for cutting it trimmed it to the size and shape the world sees it today on Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Many heads of state including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto have demanded that the Kohinoor be brought from Britain to their countries arguing that it was taken from the place which is a part of Pakistan now, Lahore. Britain, like it has rejected the demand to return the Parthenon marbles taken by Lord Elgin in the nineteenth century to Greece, has always termed such demands as “non-negotiable”.
As for the small matter of the curse of the Koh-i-Noor visiting the British monarch like it has happened to many rulers in the past, it is interesting to note that, according to some, the rule applies to male monarchs only, hence the longevity of the present British Queen’s reign. It will be a point of interest to many how the curse of the Koh-i-Noor casts its spell on the next at least two heirs to the throne who happen to be both male. But in the meantime, shine on you crazy diamond!
By Amir Sultan
In his book In the Land of Israel novelist and writer Amos Oz classifies a tragedy into two types; one being the Shakespearean and the other Chekhovian. He writes,
“…there is a Shakespearean resolution and there is the Chekhovian one. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, the stage is strewn with dead bodies and maybe there is some justice hovering high above. A Chekhov tragedy, on the other hand, ends with everybody disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, disappointed, absolutely shattered but still alive.”
William Shakespeare and Anton Chekhov (read as Chie-Kof) were both playwrights and dramatists. Both of them in their works have tried to shed light on various aspects of human nature. However, Anton Chekhov as seen by the renowned novelist Amos Oz gives us a better understanding of the tragedies happening with us. His portrayal of tragedy is what most of us go through. As the quote states that the Shakespearean tragedy ends with death as a solution to all problems and issues that a man faces. Demise of a person(s) like in Romeo and Juliet is what defines a tragedy. In comparison to it, Chekhovian tragedy is epitomized with life, life worth not living.
One of the aspects of modern life that typifies a Chekhovian tragedy in our time is substance abuse. Substance abuse is one of the huge problems that our generation is facing. Globally, according to World Drug Report (2017) there are 29.5 million people who are substance abusers. The number that is almost equal to the population of states like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates and many other countries.
It’s self-evident that all people are sober. Living life in light, joy and to its full, but suddenly some of them get introduced to a kind of psychoactive substance say marijuana, heroin or LSD that starts to bring a perpetual change in their life. First the body resists it by producing aversive reactions and this is the time when a person can refrain. But if s/he persists to take the substance the body of a person starts to crave for it. Moreover, the withdrawals and the incentive of pleasure produced by it hinder the process of contemplating and positive thinking resulting in sustaining of act willingly or unwillingly.
All this time the physiological, psychological and social aspects of human life are in a continuous shattering flux. Physiologically, the body weight gets reduced, sleep cycle is disturbed, changes in appetite patterns appear, functioning of vital organs like heart, liver and kidneys gets disturbed, and at times patient gets infected with viruses like HCV and HIV. Anxiety, restlessness, irritability, mood disorders, hallucinations and delusions and last but not the least a chronic psychosis is the harm caused to our psychological aspect by drug abuse.
There are innumerable changes seen in the social life of a substance abuser. From disturbed family relations, abuse with children, mistreatment with parents or a spouse, to disturbed financial status marked with a reckless spending and gambling. Besides, continuous drug seeking behaviour which leads to inefficacy in terms of occupation, school, vocation or sometimes complete sacking from a job, making the person’s life and the life of people around him wrenchingly miserable.
During this saga of self-deterioration, the person tries to look at his lived life through the glasses of past, present and future and founds himself disillusioned as he learns that substance abuse is not fun, embittered as he feels the bitterness of the act, heartbroken at the thoughts of mistreatment to himself and to the near ones and dear ones, disappointed because of not fulfilling the dreams he had seen and absolutely shattered but still alive, in other words, going through a Chekhovian tragedy.
(The writer is a Psychology Postgraduate from University of Kashmir and presently working as a Mental Health Counsellor at Drug De-addiction and Rehabilitation Center PCR Batamaloo. He ca be reached at: [email protected])
ICJ ruling and Into-Pak relations
By Marvi Sirmed
Just as Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, president of International Court of Justice (ICJ), started reading out the much-awaited verdict in the Kalbhushan Jadhav case, both Indian and Pakistani media, quite predictably, started pronouncing high-pitched victory of their respective countries.
Pakistan had claimed that its security forces had arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav, the 49-year-old retired Navy officer, from Pakistan’s Balochistan province on March 3, 2016 after he entered Pakistan via its border with Iran. Jadhav was subsequently sentenced to death by the Pakistani military court on charges of “espionage and terrorism” after a closed trial in April 2017, just over a year after his arrest. India, however, claimed that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he had business interests after his retirement from the Indian Navy.
India followed this by moving the ICJ on May 8, 2017 for the “egregious violation” of the provisions of the Vienna Convention by Pakistan. Islamabad repeatedly rejected New Delhi’s plea for consular access to Jadhav, claiming that India was merely interested in getting at the information gathered by its “spy”. India also sought to suspend the death sentence of Jadhav and ordered his release from Pakistan’s custody. Pakistan had challenged the admissibility of India’s petition on three grounds: alleged abuse of process; alleged abuse of rights; and India’s alleged unlawful conduct. All three grounds were rejected by the court.
India’s plea to suspend the death sentence and order the release was also rejected. But Pakistan was asked to give immediate consular access to Jadhav as well as ensure his right to free trial under the domestic judicial mechanism of Pakistan. This gives both the countries enough ground to celebrate their respective victories.
The question now is how the verdict will impact the already strained relations of the two countries? While the verdict gives the opportunity to both the governments to maintain aggressive posturing, it has no practical bearing which way Pakistan may eventually choose to decide.
While the verdict of ICJ is not binding upon either party in the strictest of legal sense, it certainly sets a favourable stage for India to continue to portray Pakistan in a negative light internationally, in case the latter does not comply with the verdict. Pakistan, on the other hand, might comply in the end, but not before getting something in return.
The retired army officers in Pakistan, who are usually referred to as ’defence analysts’ when they come to TV studios and spell out what is considered to be the “thinking” of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, continue their usual antics while aggressively emphasising that Pakistan is not bound to comply with the ICJ verdict. But if recent history is to be at all taken into account, to take their word is akin to falling right into their trap.
In the backdrop of recent economic troubles and political instability Pakistan has been facing for the last one year, it is beyond any basic sense of logical play to expect the nation to allow the aggression to linger, by not granting India’s most basic ask in this case – the proverbial lowest hanging fruit, ie, consular access to Jadhav.
It might not come, however, without a price. At the exact moment when Yousaf was reading out the verdict, American President Donald Trump celebrated the “finding” and the arrest of Hafiz Saeed on Twitter, who he describes as “mastermind” of Mumbai terror attacks. Saeed, however, has been living in plain sight all this while. He was never absconding in the first place. In fact, shortly before his (re)arrest, he was released on bail from his previous arrest. By playing this up, it betrays the mutual advantage it serves to USA and Pakistan.
When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Trump next week, he would arrive having already earned some brownie points. The so-called arrest of Hafiz Saeed might ease some tensions at FATF. USA will be in a position to claim winning yet another milestone in its war on terror. If Pakistan offers to graciously comply with the ICJ verdict, it might raise its ask too. The stick raising mood in White House has already changed to a carrot granting one. Bringing India to the table of comprehensive dialogue, after managing to elbow it out from Afghan peace process, doesn’t look like abad bargain.
But if Jadhav gets consular access, India would have the golden opportunity to demolish Pakistan’s claims of the “terror confession” by Jadhav. He would now most definitely claim confession under duress.
At the moment, the key decision makers in Pakistan do not want to disobey the court verdict. Their compliance of earlier Indian plea to delay the sentence bears witness to it. In any case, a dead Jadhav doesn’t benefit anyone. Except may be, Jadhav’s handlers, if he is indeed a spy.
(The author is a journalist with Daily Times and member of the executive council of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan)
America & Pakistan: Back to a cosy future
By Indranil Banerjie
Geopolitical gears appear to be shifting once again in South Asia with Washington being the primary driver. The question is whether this portends a return to the cosy relationship between the United States and Pakistan as in the past?
For, if Washington is once again planning to use Islamabad as a pivot for its South and West Asia policy, then New Delhi has reason to be concerned even though the imperative for such a development is neither hostile nor anti-India.
The hard fact of the matter is that a re-engagement or revival of the strategic inter-dependencies between those two countries has a direct bearing on India. While Washington’s view is global and multi-dimensional, Islamabad’s is not — it has always been India-centric and continues to be so.
New Delhi’s greatest concern traditionally has been the transfer of military systems and technology to Islamabad. It is difficult to forget that the Pakistan Air Force dared to attack Indian targets after Balakot simply because it had American-made F-16 fighter aircraft fitted with AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM).
This missile was supplied to the Pakistanis by the US as recently as 2011. India protested against the sales and for good reason too. It was well known that the missiles supplied would be a game changer in the South Asian context given that this particular variant, the 120C, with its range of over 100km, would out-distance any missile currently in the IAF’s arsenal.
Right enough, when it came to the crunch in the post-Balakot skirmish, there was nothing the IAF could do but throw an aircraft at the intruding enemy and get close enough for a shot. The downing of the MiG-21 piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman proved how much of a disadvantage India was at because of US military transfers to Pakistan.
In recent years, arms transfers by Washington to Pakistan have virtually ceased due to the deteriorating strategic ties since 2016. US President Donald Trump had suspended security and other assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of repaying US generosity with only “lies and deceit”. The main problem between the two arose from differences over Afghanistan. But now with Islamabad and Washington drawing close to a deal on Afghanistan which would allow an orderly US military withdrawal, the equations once again have changed.
The Taliban, which is controlled by Pakistan’s Army headquarters, seem to have agreed to hold intra-Afghan talks and could be amenable to some sort of power sharing. Perhaps, they might even allow a small US military presence to remain in Afghanistan. However, it is clear that Washington, in its quest to quit the unending Afghan war, is prepared to cede effective control in that country to Islamabad. China could also play a role as guarantor.
President Trump has, however, made it a point to reassure New Delhi that he intends to look after its interests. This is perhaps why he took personal credit for the arrest of arch-terrorist Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in Pakistan on Wednesday. This might suggest that New Delhi may not be left out completely in the cold in these shifting times.
But the story of change doesn’t end here. The Trump administration could be preparing to cosy up to Pakistan not because it hates or dislikes India but because it feels it might need the help of Pakistan’s jihadist generals to further its many and often complex aims in West Asia, where things are in a ferment today.
A hint of what might be in the offing was offered by the US Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was nominated by President Trump as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his response to questions for his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general stated: “From East Asia to the Middle East to Eastern Europe, authoritarian actors are testing the limits of the international system and seeking regional dominance while challenging international norms and undermining US interests… Our goal should be to sustain great power peace that has existed since World War II, and deal firmly with all those who might challenge us.”
He pointedly mentioned Pakistan as “a key partner in achieving US interests in South Asia, including developing a political settlement in Afghanistan; defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical access for US forces; and enhancing regional stability”.
Significantly, he called for a strengthening of military-to-military ties with Pakistan, adding: “While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to- military ties based on our shared interests.” So now it’s back to the good old days of shared interests!
The first-ever summit-level meeting between Pakistan PM Imran Khan and President Trump is due next week (July 22) at the White House. Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who will be there, declared that this invitation constituted an “acknowledgement of the inherent importance” of bilateral ties. He was also quick to add that Pakistan was “mindful” of US priorities in war-torn Afghanistan. The times are indeed changing once again!
Perhaps Islamabad’s strategic importance, as an ultimate guarantor of “peace” in West Asia, has assumed more relevance given the rapid breakdown of Washington’s relations with Turkey, a Nato ally, over the purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems and other major disagreements. President Trump had warned Turkey not to go ahead with the S-400 deal, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by declaring the S-400 deal to be “the most important agreement in [Turkish] modern history.” Deliveries of the missile system commenced from July 12.
This constitutes a huge snub to the United States. But things could get worse as some reports suggest that Turkey may be planning to assault parts of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish forces supported by the United States.
Things are also not going well for the Saudis in their war against the tenacious Houthis of Yemen, who are Shias supported by the ayatollahs in Tehran. Other Arab nations are quietly leaving the Saudi war. The regime change effort in Syria too has failed.
All this is reason for Washington to be worried. Hence the move to mend fences with estranged allies. New Delhi, on the other hand, which has big plans for boosting its relations with Washington, must heed the changes that could threaten to prick its ballooning ambitions.