The African Idea
Reconciliation between warring factions once a year is deeply imbedded in African royal tradition. But Nelson Mandela took it to greater lengths. Advocating reconciliation with and forgiveness of the descendants of those Europeans who introduced the despicable institution of apartheid and perpetuated it for more than three hundred years in the African continent is an incredibly high moral achievement. He did it when he became President of South Africa.
Mandela is of royal descent and some may want to ascribe the wise and moral stance he adopted to the royal culture. Nevertheless, his magnanimity towards his people’s former oppressors is unique in modern history. Can we figure out what would have happened if Europeans had been victims of slavery, colonization by an African or Asian country, and the discrimination and exploitation that such a political and economic domination would have entailed? Can we imagine them saying : ‘We are all brothers, let us forget the past…” ?
Following the ‘findings’ of the Truth and Justice Commission, which cost taxpayers a pretty Rs 60 million, how come the descendants of slave-owners are not being required to ask for forgiveness? Even if they are not directly responsible for the infamous institution of slavery, they are enjoying the legacy from this system of exploitation which their forbears have bequeathed to them. They are enjoying the fruits of the free labour of those days. Why is no one in moral and political authority coming out openly to tell them that they owe a lot to the descendants of those their ancestors had reduced to slavery for so long?
* * *
In Gold We Trust
With the declining euro, other unstable foreign currencies and the rising value of gold, well-off people, foreseeing the uncertainties of the future, have been investing heavily in gold. Against the background of capitalism gone wild, with banksters getting away with golden parachutes and leaving others to grapple with a crisis that is rather a big mess (a crisis by definition does not last long), it looks as if many of those who step into the bandwagon of politics pursue but one dream : making more money.
It’s no wonder ordinary people also end up dreaming like their role models – get rich by hook or by crook. Get their hands on gold ingots being carried in trucks, and become a member of the white-collar kleptocratic class of corporate execs who have set up a form of institutionalized theft. Like the latter, they also want to make a quick buck — the shortest way. The world should be a level-playing field, shouldn’t it?
* * *
Hijacking Free Speech
The Jaipur Literary Festival recently hosted in India was marred by the forced absence of the writer, Salman Rushdie. The writer was warned that his life might be in danger on account of his controversial book, The Satanic Verses. He decided ultimately not to show up at the festival. The Jaipur government and the police stated that they had information about extremists who might attack the writer if he turned up.
This cock and bull story might well have been made up by the state government with the connivance of the police and the blessing of the Congress-led Central government. Why? This is election-time in UP and other states. The whole scenario is interpreted, in certain quarters, to have been made up by the Congress government to manipulate the minorities Muslim vote banks. The idea would be to for the government to put itself up as a staunch defender of the minorities.
If it is borne out that the government of such a big country like India would have actually helped to fabricate lies and false stories to keep Rushdie out with the ulterior objective of garnering vote-banks, that would be a sad precedent indeed.
* * *
Genocide of the Balochs
Reports suggesting a systematic genocide of the Balochs by the Pakistani security forces are flowing out of the state and reaching international NGOs and foreign governments. According to reports, custodial deaths of Baloch youths rounded up by the security forces for interrogation and torture, their bodies dumped here and there, brutal killings of Baloch youths in false encounters for opposing state repression, a 17 year-old pleading for his life who was shot point blank and shown on TV is a common occurrence. Hundreds of missing Balochs have disappeared from public view and public conscience.
These atrocities bring to mind the slaughter of Bengalis by the Pakistani security forces in the then East Pakistan before 1971, the exodus into India of millions of Bengalis and the dramatic accounts they brought with them shocked Indians and the international community.
Balochistan is the largest state in Pakistan with the smallest population. Balochs fleeing the crushing boots of the Pakistani forces have nowhere to go. Most of them are Shias. Other parts of Pakistan will not accept them. Afghanistan is unsafe; Iran has been suppressing a freedom struggle of its own Balochs. The Baloch diaspora in the West is too small to play an effective role in drawing attention to the plight of their brothers in Balochistan, though it is trying, with a little bit of success, to do so.
Historically, the Balochs were against Partition and the creation of Pakistan, and wanted an independent state if ever Partition were to happen. They supported the Congress-led Independence movement against the British. In 1971, they turned to Indira Gandhi for help, but for reasons of realpolitik, India let them down. Their first freedom struggle in 1971 after the creation of Bangla Desh was crushed by the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with the help of the army and air force. Hundreds of Baloch youths were killed.
Civilian governments tried to pacify the freedom fighters whose claims consisted of genuine political autonomy, larger allocations of central tax revenue and development funds, payment of adequate royalty for the gas found in Balochistan and taken to Punjab for its development. Under the dictatorship of General Musharraf, the situation deteriorated. The tension was increased due to other factors: the construction of the Gwadar port by the army with Chinese assistance without the involvement of the Baloch people and their government in Quetta, the allocation of related contracts to companies based in Lahore, the security of the port being assured by the re-settlement of ex-servicemen from Lahore and other parts of Pakistan, the setting up of a nuclear site in the province triggering fears of environmental and health damage, the reinforcement of military cantonments by the General, the sharing of intelligence over the movements of Uighur and Baloch nationalists by the Chinese with the ISI, the re-settlement of Afghan talibans.
All these factors angered the Balochs and they launched a Second Independence movement in 2003 despite a few concessions made by the Musharraf government. Gas pipes and electricity lines came under attack by Baloch rebels.
Today, the freedom struggle is unabated. India is still playing realpolitik as relations with Pakistan are said to be improving. The situation in Balochistan is not comparable to that in Jammu and Kashmir. Despite past aberrations by the Indian army, the province is developing in a democratic structure, and many Kashmiris are wealthier than Indians in other states. Not to mention that Kashmiri politicians have built palatial houses thanks to Indian taxpayers’ money. Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits who are still living in camps in other parts of India is a unique case of a people being refugees in their own lands.
Are the Balochs going to be slowly and brutally killed one after another? The Western world has started showing sympathy for the bleeding Balochs, the US State Department has got over its hesitation in expressing its concern over the steady flow of reports about the sufferings of the people of Balochistan. Why is the onus always on western countries to come to the rescue of assaulted minorities? Indo-Pak relations or not, India, as the only big democracy in Asia, does not appear to be of a good enough calibre to act as a moral authority in the region.