The Great Game and India

The latest version of The Great Game in Afghanistan is at an interesting point. The next 18-24 months are very crucial for the region and for India. US has set a deadline of July 2011 by which its troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan. This has obviously raised concerns about the security situation in the neighborhood. Strategists are postulating several scenarios for post July ’11 period. As far as India is concerned, the worst possibility is that Taliban would become much more stronger and Pakistan would gain a “strategic depth” that it had when Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11. India has good relations with the current regime in Afghanistan. If Taliban gains more influence in future, it would be bad news for India.

To counter Taliban, many believe that India should have a big military presence in Afghanistan as that would give us some leverage. This might sound good but is actually a very bad idea. One must keep in mind that US, whose military budget is greater than India’s national budget, had to finally leave Afghanistan after brokering a deal with Taliban. India does not have the resources to have a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Besides even if we succeed in influencing Afghanistan, terrorists can still continue their operations from Pakistan against India. The “strategic depth” in Afghanistan would always come at a very high price with very less or no reward for both India and Pakistan.

Besides, the roots of terrorism as correctly diagnosed by Obama administration lie in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. After a very long time, US has a favorable regime in Pakistan which is ready to crawl if asked to bend by Uncle Sam. Drone attacks have increased in post Musharraf Pakistan and we would get to see a lot more action within Pakistan against terrorists by US in the near future.  Besides if Indian interests are hurt in Afghanistan beyond a certain threshold, India always has the option of doing what it did after the Parliament attack in 2001. When India mobilized army on Pakistan border, Pakistan had to divert its forces from Afghanistan to its Indian border. This had affected the US campaign against Taliban in Afghanistan. India would always have this option which would be more effective and cheaper than having a strong military presence in Afghanistan.

Lets hope that good sense prevails and India does not end up taking the outsourced job of policing Afghanistan at the cost of our own interests.

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Sports and Politics

Sports and Politics are different and both should not be mixed, is the most cited argument in favor of sporting ties with Pakistan. People argue that not playing with Pakistan or Pakistani sportsmen would not serve any purpose as it would not end cross border terrorism. The fact is that Sports since the time of Gladiators has affected politics and shaped public opinion. The two just cannot be separated. Sports, like war is used as a tool to achieve political objectives. Of course it is non violent and not as affective as war.

Last month, a senior official of Iran Football League had to resign. His crime? He accidentally sent an email to Israeli Football federation wishing new year!! Israel and Iran have no sporting ties and the reason is purely political. None of the two countries have ever been on war with each other. And it is not just about the Arab world, where many countries have no sporting ties with Israel; Politics has even affected Sports in other parts of the world.

South Africa was not only banned from Olympics from 1962- 1990 but the UN also maintained a list of people who participated in sporting events in South Africa to put a moral pressure on athletes not to appear in South Africa. The UN and other countries did this so that the country ends it apartheid policies. South Africa could play its first cricket world cup in 1992. Many sportsmen who visited South Africa on private tours were banned by their respective sports federations. In 1976, 28 African nations, boycotted Olympics to protest against tour of South Africa by New Zealand’s Rugby team. The Sports boycott in itself did not put an end to the apartheid in South Africa. But, the boycotts put across the point that it wont be business as usual for South Africa and it would have to mend its ways.

Olympics were not boycotted only in 1976. In 1980 around 45-50 countries boycotted Moscow Olympics including US, Japan, China & West Germany as a protest against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott triggered a debate in US that it could be percieved as a sentimental rather than a strategic reaction. However, the counter argument prevailed, that the boycott would be an effective symbolic protest because of its dramatic visibility to the citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether or not the action provoked a response. In retaliation the Soviet Union along with fourteen countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. Superpowers like US & Soviet Union clearly did not believe that Sports and Politics can be separated just because Sports alone could not achieve any political objective. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did not end after the Olympics boycott and the US had to fight a proxy war for eight years.

On the other hand, the argument that Sports and Politics should not be mixed prevailed during 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Berlin Olympics marked the return of Germany on International stage after World War 1. There was a huge debate in US over boycotting the Olympics to protest anti Semitic policies of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: “The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race.” Brundage opposed a boycott, arguing that politics had no place in sports saying “The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Many Afro Americans favored participating arguing that victory of Blacks would undermine Nazi’s “Aryan Supremacy” theory and foster Black pride in US. Thus there were political reasons as well for not boycotting the games.  The issue was settled by a vote and the Amateur Athletic Union defeated the proposal to boycott the Olympics by two-and-a-half votes. However many Jewish players personally boycotted the games.

Hitler initially held the Olympics in low regard because of their internationalism, but he became an avid supporter after Joseph Goebbels, his Minister of Propaganda, convinced him of their propaganda value. Goebbels stated in 1933, “German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.” Germany won most medals in that Olympics and won praises from most of visitors for its hospitality and organization. Hitler even had plans to take over the Olympics forever. He said, “In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium”. Many observers believe that boycott by western countries would have bolstered international resistance to Hitler’s expansionist designs.

In the context of India Pakistan relations, Cricket has played an important role many times in the past. In 1987, when the Indian and Pakistani army were in an eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation on the border, General Zia invited himself to watch an India Pakistan match at Jaipur and eased the tension. Before India’s tour to Pakistan in 2004, when ties between the two countries were improving, opponents of the Pakistan tour within the Govt argued that an attack on Indians on Pakistani soil would destroy the sense of well being whereas supporters of tour argued that it would help to ease the tensions. The successful tour by the Indians further created a false sense of normalcy. Prior to the tour, cross border terrorism had reduced in 2004 and Pakistan for the first time had said that it would not allow its territory to be used against  India. This has since proved to be a false promise.

Today the situation is much different from the one in 2004. Despite evidences against 26/11 attacks, Pakistan has not taken any relevant action against terrorist groups acting against India. Yesterday, Pune was attacked barely a week after JuD said that Delhi, Pune & Kanpur were its targets. The current circumstances demand isolating Pakistan on international forums and exerting diplomatic pressure, if not a limited war, to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. The recent unofficial boycott of Pakistani players by IPL has once again demonstrated the importance of cricket diplomacy. Isolating Pakistan in cricket and not just IPL would go a long way in exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.

Samjhauta With National Interest ?

The Samjhauta Express blasts of 18 Feb 2007 killed about 68 people and injured 50. The initial suspicion of investigators was on Pakistan and Bangladesh based militant organisations.  However after the Malegaon blasts the Mumabi ATS suddenly felt that Lt. Col. Purohit had used RDX in Samjhauta blasts and said so in the court and media. This despite the fact that no RDX was used in the blasts. The blasts were done with the help of Potassium Chlorate and Sulphur. However these facts did not deter the Police from cooking stories. Despite the fact that the Police had to reverse its stand in the court, and denied any link of Shrikant Purohit to Samjhauta Express blasts the damage to India’s reputation and interests was done. After 26/11 Pakistan kept harping on the inconsistency in Samjhauta probe and cast aspersions on India’s allegations. Thanks to ASI Tukaram Omble, because of whom Kasab was caught alive, that we have a very credible evidence against Pakistan otherwise we really would have had a tough time after the Samjhauta probe fiasco.

However, we still dont know what made the Police claim in the first place that Shrikant Purohit and not Pakistan based terrorist organisations were behind the Samjhauta attacks. Did it recieve any special instructions from its political masters or was it just an human error ? Are Shrikant Purohit and Pragya Thakur responsible for Malegaon blasts or were they framed for larger political goals ?

If the ATS is to be believed then Pragya Thakur and Shrikant Purohit have confessed to their role in Malegaon blasts. It has happened before that terrorists confess to Police but do an about turn in courts. However many terrorists have admitted to their crime in interviews to media. The most famous instance is of Afzal Guru, accused in Parliament attack case. Even terrorists of Indian Mujaheedin responsible for Delhi blasts, caught after Batla House encounter confessed to their crime in an interview to India Today magazine and so did Mansoor Peerbhoy in an interview to Indian Express. Peerbhoy has even applied to the court to become an approver. Kasab’s confession about his role in 26/11 is well known. What is interesting is the fact that we have seen confessions of hardcore terrorists like Kasab, Peerbhoy, Afzal, Saquib Nisar, Zia-Ur – Rehman and Shakeel but the Malegaon blasts accused who used a cycle bomb and killed five people in a crowded place have not yet confessed to the police even after narco and brain mapping tests.

There is no doubt that Pragya Thakur and Shrikant Purohit should be hanged if they are responsible for killing innocents. But if the leaks of their confession to the media prove fictitious and the court sets them free then the Government would have to answer a lot of questions.