Russia, on Saturday, hosted an international conference on Afghanistan. The conference is deemed as significant towards restoration of peace in the war-torn country. What, in the ultimate end, gives one a hope is the participation of Taliban leadership in the conference. It was for the first time that Taliban attended such an event. Countries also present in Moscow conference included China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Central Asian states. The US had the observer status. Even as Afghanistan government was not invited to the conference, Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which oversees peace efforts, were also present. Taliban had said that they would hold talks with the US, not with the government in Kabul. The conference is aimed at kick-starting peace talks after decades of bloody war in the mountainous country. One may not expect quick results from the Moscow conference but the fact that the Taliban and Afghan delegates are in the same room in Russia with Washington also around is seen as significant. Earlier, Taliban representatives had held talks with the Trump administration’s special adviser on Afghan peace, last month, in Qatar. Zalmay Khalilzad, a hawkish diplomat appointed as the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation had also met with six Afghan Taliban leaders.
Zalmay had earlier held consultations in Islamabad, Riyadh and Doha also. This also reflects the America’s fresh thinking to acknowledge the political and military reality in Afghanistan. America invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 in the aftermath of terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 resulting in dislodging of Taliban government, which the America thought, was sheltering the master-minds of American attack. After initial defeats, Taliban, however, gathered their strength again pushed the American and its allied forces to the wall by capturing almost 45 percent territory of the country. The Afghan strategy by Trump last summer, which aimed at boosting Afghan security forces and the presence of the US troops, did not prove to be effective enough to defeat the Taliban. The US seems to have got frustrated by the Taliban attacks in the capital Kabul and other strategic cities. What is most worrisome for the US is that it is losing on all counts and finds itself in a nutcracker situation. It can neither afford to exit as a defeated super power, nor can it stay for long. It has lost the war but is not acknowledging it and badly wants a face saving formula. It can exit only through negotiations and not via northern network which is no more available to ship out heavy baggage.
The US is faring poorly on all other fronts including the domestic front where Trump has become highly unpopular. What added American woes further is the Russia and China’s growing interest in Afghanistan. As the things stand now, Afghanistan problem has crossed over of US interests. The emergence of Sino-Russian camp and the possibility of Pakistan slipping into it with Iran and Turkey, is also giving the Trump administration sleepless nights. The US fears the possibility of Russia giving surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban to counter air threat. The superiority of America in air attacks is the only factor that stops Taliban from walking through Kabul. India’s walking into America’s lap and its involvement in Kabul is the last thing Pakistan and Taliban would ever accept. The Trump administration seems to have finally understood the dangers of continuing its military engagement in Afghanistan. Today Afghanistan portrays a dangerous spectacle with Pakistan, America, Russia, China and India—all nuclear powers—involved in game-play. One cannot ignore Iran and Turkey as well. They too have developed their interests in the region. In this backdrop, the Moscow conference is a major initiative towards peace in Afghanistan.
Shah Faesal’s political launch
Former IAS officer, Shah Faesal, finally came up with his own party. On Sunday, he announced the formation of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement as his party at a public function in Srinagar. Around 3000 people, mostly driven from Kupwara district, attended the Shah’s party launch. The only known face accompanying Faesal was former JNU vice president and research scholar Shehla Rashid. Shah Faesal, typical to a standard politician, virtually promised moon to the people once he was voted to power. From resolution of Kashmir issue to restoring Silk Road, Shah Faesal promised to resolve all the issues pertaining to the people of the state. Shah Faesal resigned from government service in January to pursue political career. Initially, it was understood that he would join National Conference but ultimately formed his own party to give what he said “a new politics to the state has seen only miseries in the past 70 years”. It would be quite premature to comment on the future of Shah’s party but it is just another addition to existing political parties. Politics in Kashmir is a tightly controlled market. Opening in the market, no doubt, is free but the sustenance and rise is restricted. It would be quite premature to comment on the success or failure of Shah Faesal and his political venture but in the given political scenario, he could end up as yet another Babar Bader or Imran Rahi. People have already started questioning his intentions as what made him to join politics when he could have delivered better in his previous position. A common perception is that pro India political tribe is facing severe crisis of leadership. Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba, who were projected as future hope when they took plunge in politics, have bitterly failed, both, in and outside the government. When Omar Abdullah was appointed as chief minister of the state in 2009, some news channels addressed him as Barak Obama of Kashmir. The “iconic” image of both Omar and Mahbooba was blown into heaps by the wind in 2010 and 2016. To a many people, Shah Faesal has been brought in to fill the gap that is becoming wider with each passing day.
Faesal is young and has influenced man a young minds when he qualified the prestigious IAS examination in 2009. He was projected as icon of Kashmiri youth. Many young minds were inspired by him and in the process got to the prestigious All India Civil Services. In 2016 when Kashmiri youth overwhelmingly hit streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, many media outlets in India tried to project Shah as the real icon of Kashmiri youth. Hoewever, the youth in Kashmir are on a rebellious path. Right from University scholars to school drop-outs, a rage of sorts is igniting the young minds to defiance. It is not going overboard to say that Burhan Wani, in recent years, came as inspiration. Though militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is around 30 year old but since 2002, it had started a gradual decline. And many areas in the valley, south Kashmir in particular, were declared as militant free. It was against this backdrop that 2008 assembly elections, despite Amarnath Land row, witnessed huge participation of people. The rise of Burhan Wani, however, gave a new direction to the entire political spectrum. Shah Faesal’s joining politics has to be seen in this context. Whatever his aims and objectives, Shah Faecal has an uphill task before him and there are many challenges that he has to face. Would he be able to deliver or not, only time will say.
Christchurch terror strike
New Zealand is deemed as the most peaceful, quiet and secured land with utmost beauty. But on Friday a brute terror attack shook the country to its foundation. Forty-nine people were killed when a gun-wielding white terrorist attacked two mosques at Christchurch when Muslims were offering congregational Friday prayers. Dozens more were left wounded. The horrific events have left the country in mourning and shock. Muslims make up less than 1% of New Zealand’s population and the faith’s most prominent adherent is a rugby player. The attacker, an Australian by birth, proudly live streamed the video of the attack on his face book account. He offered a smile on his arrest by police. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deserves all the appreciation for condemning the massacre as an act of terrorism. She called it the darkest hour in her country’s history. She also visited the families of the wounded and dead persons which in itself demonstrated the human values in her country are still supreme. But the reaction in other countries was not as strong as it demanded. In fact, an Australian MP justified the carnage of Muslims for their growing population in western countries. In UK, a Muslim man was beaten with a hammer and a batten outside a mosque in east London, hours after 49 people were killed in the terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand. The assaulters shouted abusive words with Islamophobic content as they drove past the mosque and called people attending Friday prayers as terrorists. From the US to France to Australia, Muslims are persistently vilified and attacked, while biases against them are normalized. It is only confirmation of the pernicious spread of Islamophobia spread after 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Islamophobia or hate-Muslim ideology is undoubtedly real and on the rise and being propagated online. It has become mainstream in almost all the western countries, more particularly, in America, UK, Australia and Franc. The U S President Donald Trump is personally known for spreading bigotry through his hateful rhetoric. It is perhaps for this fact that the West did not evoke the reaction to Muslim killings as it could have evoked for the case being otherwise. There were no candle marches, street demonstrations and mourning functions on the savage killing of New Zealand Muslims the way the world had witnessed in protest against terror strike in France in 2015.
The silence by Indian government and media too is something horrifying. Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended unlimited sympathy to the people and government of France after 2015 terror attack by ISIS but did not utter a word on the aghast killing of Muslims in New Zealand. The so-called media of the world’s largest democracy also followed the foot-steps of the Prime in maintaining silence on the gruesome incident, notwithstanding the fact that India has a population of around 200 million Muslims. Like in the West, Muslims in India too are facing communal wrath at the hands of the Majority community. The rise of BJP to the power with Narendra Modi (with his Gujrat baggage) at the top has normalized anti Muslim outlook in every section of the society. Such people were termed in the beginning as fringe elements but the fringe has become mainstream now. It is dangerous game that is being played in the arena of world politics: Muslims versus the rest. It goes without saying the majority of the people still believe in peaceful co-existence. But they need to come out of the hibernation and take active lead roles. It is their absence in public and political life that gives the unwanted people space. Muslims also need to do some soul-searching and people with self-manufactured far-extremist views need to be through out of the mainstream.
The Divine Reality
Who are we? Where did we come from? How did life originate on this planet? Who were our ancestors? These are some of the intriguing questions that each of us grapples with at least once in our lifetime.
People look for logical and satisfactory answers to these queries both in religion and science. While the three Semitic religions— Islam, Christianity and Judaism— share a common belief in the origin of mankind, Hinduism has a slightly different view. According to the famous tale of Purusha as mentioned in one of the early Vedas, a cosmic man’s sacrifice created all life. According to the Bible, God just said: “Let there be light”, and only in six days the sun, moon, land and sky and all living creatures came into existence. Similarly, the origin of mankind is beautifully embedded in a mystical Quranic verse: “Kun Faya Kun”. It means “the originator of the heavens and the earth (Allah). When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.”
However, we need a deeper insight into the origin of mankind in order to fathom the complete creation plan in a cogent manner. Quran further says: “O mankind, be conscious of your Lord, who created you from one soul (Adam) and created from it its mate (Eve) and dispersed from both of them many men and women” (4:1). This Quranic verse reminds us of our origin, oneness and commonality, something that has become the most forgotten reality in today’s world. In addition, a lot more verses in Quran unravel the eternal truth that all human beings have one creator, one father and one mother. They actually laid the basis of the Sufi worldview of Wahdat-ul-Wujud (unity of being).
The notion of Wahdat-ul-Wujud was propounded by Ibn Arabi, an eminent Spanish mystic who has inspired a countless number of Sufis in the history of Islam. Eminent sufis such as Shahab-ud-Din Suhrawardi have written complete spiritual treatises on the related Quranic verses which have been referred as untenable esoteric proofs for the Sufi belief in the Unity of Being.
For Ibn Arabi, the entire world is only one “Divine Reality”. He strongly believed that there was none and would be nothing in the universe except for the existence of one and only Divine. Thus, the world and whatever it has in it including the entire humankind, is nothing other than the self-revelation of God by Himself. In his spiritual discourse on this subject, Ibn Arabi wrote in his book Fusus al-Hikam (The Seals of Wisdom)—one of the most in-depth panoramas of Islamic spirituality: “Allah, the Most Truthful (al-haqq) wanted to see the essences (al-a’yan) of His most perfect and infinite Names (al-asma al-husna)… Allah wanted to see His own Essence (‘ayn) in one global object (kawn) which having been blessed with existence (al-wujud) summarised the Divine order (al-amr) so that He could manifest His mystery (sirr) to Himself.”
This clearly sets out that mankind did not appear on this earth by sheer chance. Rather, Allah willed that peoples from different ethnicities and with different faith traditions inhabit the earth as a manifestation of the Unity (wahdat). If we remind ourselves of this basic point, all polemics of racism, xenophobia, misogynism, ethnic superiority and religious bigotry would disappear from this world which is founded on the beautiful spiritual notion — unity of being.